Category Archives: Other Media

Is It Time to Occupy Big Media?


“Between the public sector and the private sector, we have wreaked untold havoc on the media environment.”

These aren’t the words of a progressive media advocate such as University of Illinois professor Robert McChesney or The Nation’s John Nichols, but of ex-FCC commissioner Michael Copps in January. In an interview on Democracy Now!, Copps attributes his claim to “the abdication of public interest responsibility by the FCC” over the last 30 years and their failure to enforce public interest guidelines and a stronger focus on news.

Here’s another example of how the FCC has failed in their responsibility to the public good: In 1995, the FCC forbade companies ownership of more than 40 stations. Clear Channel Communications now owns over 1,500. This rate of consolidation clearly shows no sign of slowing.

The closing of news rooms and the number of reporters on the street instead of the beat goes on as the corporate state continues its relentless and undemocratic consolidation of America’s media landscape. Layoffs continue despite a number of companies like McClatchy posting a 21% profit margin, according to the book The Death and Life of American Journalism. McClatchy fired a third of their newsroom staff in 2008.

Rupert Murdoch. Photo: BornRich.com

“25 or 30 years ago, only 50 companies controlled more than half of what we see and hear every single day. Now, that 50 – which was alarming enough – has shrunk to six or even five,” says Johnathan Lawson, the co-founder of Reclaim the Media. Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp owns the top newspaper on three continents: The Wall Street Journal, The Sun, and The Australian. According to a 2008 GAO report, the company was operating over 150 subsidiaries in off-shore tax havens. How much of those subsidiary holdings could have gone to funding NPR, or towards community initiatives to help expand minority media in communities?

The assault on our airwaves first began in earnest in 1980, when “the FCC did away with public interest guidelines for broadcast television licenses, and the renewal period went from three to eight years,” according to Copps. Now all a broadcaster has to do is “mail in a postcard” and their license is renewed, because the FCC – against the very reason it was created – has watered down attempts to ensure that the public’s airwaves are by-and-large for the public good.

Former FCC Chairman Michael Powell. Photo: Politico.com

Michael Powell (son of former Secretary of State Colin Powell), who was the head of the FCC in 2003, attempted to eliminate 30 year-old rules that prohibited any television network from reaching more than 35% of the national population. These rules were, in part, created to prevent the homogenization of news and to ensure that there was an attempt at quality local coverage. Predictably, the broadcast industry spent $249 million attempting to convince the federal government to allow new rules which would expand that limit to 45% of the public. And they won.

Fast forward to 2006: the FCC passed rules “which allowed broadcast-newspaper cross-ownership in the top 20 markets,” as Katy Bachman wrote in AdWeek. “The last thing Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski [who became the FCC head in 2009] wants to talk about are the media ownership rules.”

A media system dominated by such a narrow coterie of owners has a direct impact on the quality of news presented to the public – affecting a diversity of viewpoints as well as the depth of coverage on issues such as corporate greed, poverty, corruption, racism, climate change and a host of other topics that an electorate needs to know in order to make educated decisions which directly affect their lives.

One major casualty of corporate domination of news is investigative journalism. Be it in print or in broadcast news, this time-intensive and not always profitable aspect of news is crucial to a healthy democracy. One need only look, for instance, at the media debacle of the Iraq War to see how the corporate state perverts information consumed by Americans. The first Gulf War was a huge boon for corporations like GE, which turned nightly news into “a media hardware show,” as Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! stated. GE had a significant stake in the production of parts for many of the weapons in the Persian Gulf war.

The shrinking of diverse views on war was evidenced by the firing of MSNBC host Phil Donahue in February of 2003. He approached the invasion from a critical perspective and maintained the highest rated show on that network. The killing off of diversity is also a perfect example of how corporate media perpetuates the concept of “just” wars to increase profits, as GE’s role in the Persian Gulf war and the reporting on that war and Operation Iraqi Freedom demonstrate.

Picture: GunStreetGirl.tumblr.com

Media consolidation also plays a profound role in how our society prioritizes values, from self-esteem to consumerism. “It gives them [corporate media] a great deal of influence over how our culture thinks about itself,” points out author and activist Anne Elizabeth Moore.  The deluge of advertising, for instance, which takes up a lot of broadcasting and radio, certainly has an impact on shopping habits as well as more serious issues like body-image.

Enter Occupy Wall Street. The movement has set its sights on corporations and the elite who continue without apology to commodify health care, public education, and other vital necessities, and has subsequently kicked issues like income inequality and corporate greed back into the national conversation. Some even argue that President Obama’s recent State of the Union speech carried a hint of the spirit of the movement, which isn’t surprising in an election year.

How would corporate media respond to civil disobedience in their lobbies? What would happen if a group of protesters went to a news station and demanded a revoking of that outlet’s license? This is what happened in the WLBT case, when civil rights activists challenged a racist broadcaster and ultimately forced a judge to pull the station’s license for not serving the public interest.

If the people are going to stand up to big banks and corporations for wrecking our economy and destroying our environment, the theft of our airwaves and newspapers must not be ignored.  As each occupation tackles issues local to their cities and towns – such as police brutality in minority communities – directly challenging broadcasters and newspapers through sit-ins or other creative tactics to cover issues that aren’t properly covered by major media could be a good start. But that would just be the beginning.

One Occupy Philadelphia protester sums it up best:

“It’s bullshit that our country’s main source of news is owned by a few large corporations that have a GLARING conflict of interest in providing us with accurate, honest information.  They have an agenda both in downsizing news rooms as well as promoting certain political views.  It’s time for us to hold them to account and demand a true separation of corporation and government, both in the running of and in the reporting of.”

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Occupy 2.0: “Defending the Everyday Aims of Life” while Persisting in a Police State

Occupy Philadelphia marches in early morning hours after eviction. Photo by Dustin Slaughter

“No government can exist for a single moment without the cooperation of the people, willing or forced, and if people withdraw their cooperation in every detail, the government will come to a standstill.”
–Gandhi

The Occupy movement is now a genie that cannot be put back in its bottle.

And while it has certainly gone through growing pains, and will continue to do so, the adversity faced has only forced the movement to adapt and refocus.

After their first eviction, Occupy San Francisco decided to occupy sidewalks around the downtown financial district (the original strategy for Occupy Wall Street before 17 September, I should add.) Can’t have an encampment? Adapt and take public sidewalks. There is now a nationwide movement to also throw the gauntlet at major banks like Bank of America, and re-occupy foreclosed homes for families thrown out by the financial criminal class. The move has even prompted Bank of America to fire out an email to its employees. And yes, the email’s existence has indeed been confirmed by a Bank of America representative.

The financial elite are not the only ones concerned about this nonviolent peoples’ movement, of course. Incredibly, Mayor Jean Quan stated in a recent interview that mayors from at least 18 cities have been holding conference calls with each other to discuss how to deal with the Occupy movement. There are legitimate questions as to whether federal agencies like the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are playing some kind of advisory role or even assisting in coordinating crackdowns on occupations too. Indeed, it would be surprising if the federal government were not, given the history of programs like COINTELPRO. It is well known, however, that DHS operates what are known as fusion centers, which serve as “focal points within the state and local environment for the receipt, analysis, gathering, and sharing of threat-related information between the federal government and state, local, tribal, territorial (SLTT) and private sector partners.” Investigative journalists such as Jason Leopold are continuing to search for more answers about what role, if any, the federal government is playing in these crackdowns.

What is no mystery, however, is the contempt and cruelty often displayed by police towards this movement. Here’s what Patrick Meghan, a writer for the sitcom “Family Guy” experienced at the hands of the LAPD:

“I was arrested at about 1 a.m. Wednesday morning with 291 other people at Occupy LA. I was sitting in City Hall Park with a pillow, a blanket, and a copy of Thich Nhat Hanh’s “Being Peace” when 1,400 heavily-armed LAPD officers in paramilitary SWAT gear streamed in. I was in a group of about 50 peaceful protestors who sat Indian-style, arms interlocked, around a tent (the symbolic image of the Occupy movement). The LAPD officers encircled us, weapons drawn, while we chanted ‘We Are Peaceful’ and ‘We Are Nonviolent’ and ‘Join Us.'”

It gets worse.

“When the LAPD finally began arresting those of us interlocked around the symbolic tent, we were all ordered by the LAPD to unlink from each other (in order to facilitate the arrests). Each seated, nonviolent protester beside me who refused to cooperate by unlinking his arms had the following done to him: an LAPD officer would forcibly extend the protestor’s legs, grab his left foot, twist it all the way around and then stomp his boot on the insole, pinning the protestor’s left foot to the pavement, twisted backwards. Then the LAPD officer would grab the protestor’s right foot and twist it all the way the other direction until the non-violent protestor, in incredible agony, would shriek in pain and unlink from his neighbor. It was horrible to watch, and apparently designed to terrorize the rest of us.”

The police state will continue to use terror to coerce this movement into backing down. It will not work, however. As Andrew Kolin states in his book State Power and Democracy: Before and During The Presidency of George W. Bush: “Keep in mind that police states are by their inherent nature dysfunctional,” Kolin said. “The Occupy movement is hope of a return to mass democracy as a countervailing force to the police state and to it’s possible breakdown.” In an excellent interview with Jason Leopold at Truthout, Kolin says that “in all police states, ‘and Germany in the [1930s] is the classic example, they develop by crushing democracy.'”

Philadelphia police on a SEPTA bus arrive in riot gear to evict Occupy Philadelphia. Photo by Dustin Slaughter

Myself and over 50 others were arrested in the early-morning hours after Occupy Philadelphia’s eviction–for marching. My resolve, as well as those who were arrested or were outraged at the way the police handled the eviction, has only strengthened. This movement must use love and persistence to fight back. There is no other way. The state knows only violence and fear, and this can only continue for so long in the face of what the Occupy movement offers as an alternative. This movement must continue to struggle for what dissident playwright and later president of the Czech Republic Vaclav Havel calls “defending the everyday aims of life.”

As Mark Kurlansky writes of Havel in Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea:

“Organizations were formed to support the families of those persecuted by the government; alternative ‘universities’ taught the things excluded from official education; environmental groups were formed and cultural activities established…Increasingly citizens could live life apart from the one established by the regime. Though the actions were small, the goals were large.”

Kurlansky goes on to write of Havel’s strategy:

“…if people lived their lives parallel to the state system and not as a part of it–which he [Havel] termed “living within a lie”–there would always be a tension between these two realities and they would not be able to permanently coexist.”

The Occupy movement has for months now been engaged in creating the very same “counter-society” Havel and the Solidarity movement created to eventually bring the Soviet empire to its knees. Occupations across the country have been stepping up to offer free food, shelter and healthcare to the homeless because the state has failed to do so, a state that in turn uses its own failure as an excuse to evict peaceful protesters. The “occupation” has plans to offer free college education in Philadelphia, with local college professors volunteering their time, as I’m sure there are similar initiatives to do so in other parts of the country. And the movement is now standing–physically–with American families from across the country who are trampled on by banks who knowingly committed fraud and tossed people out of their homes.

Despite the winter, Occupy 2.0 is just getting warmed up. What are YOU going to do now?


Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Chris Hedges visits Liberty Plaza, NYC

Chris Hedges sits down with New York City Revolution Media via Livestream to discuss the need for American nonviolent radicalism, capitalism in its death throes, the challenges that lie ahead, and essential titles to read.

“Acts of violence are exactly how The State wants us to react, they know what to do with that. They don’t really know what to do with this.”

Day 10 of the occupation.

Chris Hedges Interview at Occupy Wall Street (Part 1 of 2)

Chris Hedges Interview at Occupy Wall Street (Part 2 of 2)


Al-Jazeera Presents: The Men Who Crashed the World (Part 1)

“The crash of September 2008 brought the largest bankruptcies in world history, pushing more than 30 million people into unemployment and bringing many countries to the edge of insolvency. Wall Street turned back the clock to 1929.

But how did it all go so wrong?”

This content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License (3.0) by Al-Jazeera English.


To Liberty Plaza’s Patriots: “Change the Hearts of the Oppressed” (with video)

Photograph: John Stuttle/guardian.co.uk

“…but far more important was the effort to change the hearts of the oppressed. They needed to become unwilling to continue accepting their oppression, and to become determined to build a better society.”
— “Tapping the Roots of Power” from Waging Nonviolent Struggle, Gene Sharp

Something important is happening at Liberty Plaza in Lower Manhattan. The encampment that began there on Saturday, September 17th, is a vocal and stark reminder of growing American youth discontent. Banks and other corporations are sitting on record profits and CEO salaries continue to climb at an unprecedented rate, while students and the average American worker face an anemic job market and growing economic disparity. The occupation in Lower Manhattan may be the start of a sea-change in so-called American democracy. But if it is a true change (and other organizing efforts in cities like Chicago and Atlanta, including an ongoing one in San Francisco suggest that it may be), certain things must change in order for this nonviolent revolution to be sustained and really have an effect. More on that in a moment.

I was fortunate enough to spend four days at the camp. In many ways, the camp is a world unto itself: very self-sustaining, with its own media center, food area, trash committees, etc. It’s a shining example of a cooperative community. The protesters are very open to pedestrians, quite willing to engage them in conversation, and often invite the homeless to eat the seemingly-endless supply of pizza that continues to flow in from supporters across the country. The sense that the camp’s inhabitants are making history, and that they’re fighting for a fairer, more equitable system is palpable and infectious. The NYPD is increasingly using tactical intimidation in the form of brutal harassment to quell the spirit of the protesters, as this video below shows:

There have also been unconfirmed reports of alleged agent provocateurs (not uncommon considering increased counter-terrorism activity with the help of the CIA) and ordering tents and tarps be taken down during rain storms. The resolve and courage of the protesters only seems to strengthen, however: Immediately after a police raid, for instance, a march is organized as a show of strength. The marches to “the belly of the beast,” as many protesters call Wall Street, are dismissed by outlets like CNBC, who just this morning said that the occupation will fizzle out by week’s end. Presumptions like this come off as naive because they underestimate the passion, energy and commitment these young people have for their mission.

But this begs the question: what exactly IS the mission? What exactly are the demands that Liberty Plaza wants met?

Since getting back to Philadelphia last night, I’ve been able to catch up on media stories about the Occupy Wall Street movement. Some outlets capture the youth energy and thirst for change accurately, while some it seems go out of their way to downplay the significance of what’s happening in Lower Manhattan. Almost none can really zero-in on one specific demand, however. As friends and family (many of whom share this anger towards Wall Street) have told me: “I still don’t know what they want.” And that may be the most accurate part of this story thus far. Watching news reports and reading eyewitness accounts, we see brave young people marching and facing ramped-up police intimidation, but the average American watching these reports can’t latch on to one specific message.

Photograph: John Stuttle/guardian.co.uk

Growing a movement means bringing others from different segments of society together. It quite often starts with the radical left (intellectuals and the youth), as the Egyptian revolution this year and the student-started revolution in Poland that eventually brought down the Soviet Union show us. But in order to sustain these movements, one demand or even a short list of demands must be crafted to appeal to larger segments of society. While the people in Tahrir square had a long list of grievances, from high food prices to political oppression, eventually one solid demand emerged: oust Mubarak.

As the picture above illustrates, there are a whole host of grievances at Liberty Plaza, and nearly all of them are legitimate. There is great anger at Wall Street, hence the reason for camping out mere blocks away from the New York Stock Exchange. But the connection between grievances such as “Forgive student loan debt,” or “End the wars,” or even “End corporate personhood,” is lost because there is no coherent narrative to connect those demands. A sustained campaign of civil disobedience and highly-visible public marches on Wall Street is crucial and is coalescing well at the moment. If these demonstrations get bigger, however (and there is currently great momentum) one loud and clear demand to feed to the media–and to broadcast as an invitation to Americans of all stripes to join the demonstrations–can only strengthen the movement, because when whole sections of society refuse to participate or be complicit in a corrupt system, they take away the ability of rulers to exercise their power. Hence the power of a general strike, for instance.

“The internal stability of rulers can be measured by the ratio of the strength of the social forces that they control and the strength of the social forces that oppose them.”
–“Tapping the Roots of Power” from Waging Nonviolent Struggle, Gene Sharp

So, permit me to make a suggestion: “One citizen. One dollar. One vote.” Getting special interest money out of politics changes the whole game, and addresses a myriad of concerns expressed by not just the Liberty Plaza occupiers, but an overwhelming majority of Americans. For example:

1) Student loan debt is astronomically high in large part because of special interest money (i.e. Wall Street banks) influencing political decisions in Washington, D.C. It’s so powerful, in fact, that chronic gamblers can discharge their debt, but graduates are unable to discharge their debt. Period.

2) Our country is in a perpetual state of war due largely to the military-industrial complex (Wall Street) occupying the halls of power.

3) Corporations are allowed to pour unaccountable and unlimited amounts of money into elections because of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. Clarence Thomas and the Koch Brothers, anybody?

4) The state-by-state campaign to break the backs of public sector workers’ right to collectively bargain, or to disenfranchise Democratic voters? Big-moneyed (Wall Street) interests under ALEC have literally been crafting legislation in every state to perpetuate such injustices.

Monsanto at the FDA. Oil companies and climate change legislation. The list goes on and on.

“One citizen. One dollar. One vote.” It’s a demand that speaks to all Americans. My libertarian father, myself (a democratic socialist) and my Republican friends firmly agree on the need to get money out of politics. Special interest corruption of our democratic processes IS our Mubarak. And Wall Street is a clear-cut example of the power of special interests. It’s a perfect focal point for popular rage and misery at our broken economy.

It’s time to start organizing nonviolent civil disobedience, petitions, and other efforts in order to galvanize our country into a concerted effort to make “One citizen, one dollar, one vote” not just a slogan, but a mainstay of our democracy. Some suggest legislation. Some suggest a Constitutional amendment. Whatever the solution, we need to start that conversation. Liberty Plaza, with the world watching them and support growing, is in a perfect position to push the national conversation on corruption in our government into the spotlight. I hope they do so. To learn more about how to organize this campaign in your community, visit US Day of Rage.

If you want to help those at Liberty Plaza, you can donate here.

For the latest news and analysis on what’s happening with the protests and life at the camp, visit the excellent Waging Nonviolence.


Al-Jazeera Presents: The Economics of Happiness

Bhutanese Prime Minister Jigme Thinley recently co-hosted a conference on happiness and economics--EPA

Editor’s note: As potentially thousands of Americans prepare to descend on Wall Street this weekend, and many others plan their own demonstrations and occupations in other parts of the country, I’m sure many of us are thinking about the kind of country we want to live in. Is it a country that values “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness?” I think that’s what many of us are struggling for every day, but cannot realize because of a dysfunctional, corrupt system dominated by overwhelming corporate power over our government. I post this piece as a tribute to the many who are heading to Lower Manhattan to begin the first occupation of Wall Street in American history, and in so doing begin to help our fellow Americans realize a true economics of happiness, not a false consumer-based one–something we haven’t seen in a very, very long time.

In Bhutan, national policy emphasizes increasing people’s happiness, rather than income.

By Jeffrey Sachs
Professor of Economics and Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University

We live in a time of high anxiety. Despite the world’s unprecedented total wealth, there is vast insecurity, unrest, and dissatisfaction. In the United States, a large majority of Americans believe that the country is “on the wrong track”. Pessimism has soared. The same is true in many other places.

Against this backdrop, the time has come to reconsider the basic sources of happiness in our economic life. The relentless pursuit of higher income is leading to unprecedented inequality and anxiety, rather than to greater happiness and life satisfaction. Economic progress is important and can greatly improve the quality of life, but only if it is pursued in line with other goals.

In this respect, the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan has been leading the way. Forty years ago, Bhutan’s fourth king, young and newly installed, made a remarkable choice: Bhutan should pursue “gross national happiness” (GNH) rather than gross national product. Since then, the country has been experimenting with an alternative, holistic approach to development that emphasises not only economic growth, but also culture, mental health, compassion, and community.

Dozens of experts recently gathered in Bhutan’s capital, Thimphu, to take stock of the country’s record. I was co-host with Bhutan’s prime minister, Jigme Thinley, a leader in sustainable development and a great champion of the concept of “GNH”. We assembled in the wake of a declaration in July by the United Nations General Assembly calling on countries to examine how national policies can promote happiness in their societies.

All who gathered in Thimphu agreed on the importance of pursuing happiness rather than pursuing national income. The question we examined is how to achieve happiness in a world that is characterised by rapid urbanisation, mass media, global capitalism, and environmental degradation. How can our economic life be re-ordered to recreate a sense of community, trust, and environmental sustainability?

Here are some of the initial conclusions. First, we should not denigrate the value of economic progress. When people are hungry, deprived of basic needs such as clean water, health care, and education, and without meaningful employment, they suffer. Economic development that alleviates poverty is a vital step in boosting happiness.

Second, relentless pursuit of GNP to the exclusion of other goals is also no path to happiness. In the US, GNP has risen sharply in the past 40 years, but happiness has not. Instead, single-minded pursuit of GNP has led to great inequalities of wealth and power, fueled the growth of a vast underclass, trapped millions of children in poverty, and caused serious environmental degradation.

Third, happiness is achieved through a balanced approach to life by both individuals and societies. As individuals, we are unhappy if we are denied our basic material needs, but we are also unhappy if the pursuit of higher incomes replaces our focus on family, friends, community, compassion, and maintaining internal balance. As a society, it is one thing to organise economic policies to keep living standards on the rise, but quite another to subordinate all of society’s values to the pursuit of profit.

Yet politics in the US has increasingly allowed corporate profits to dominate all other aspirations: fairness, justice, trust, physical and mental health, and environmental sustainability. Corporate campaign contributions increasingly undermine the democratic process, with the blessing of the US Supreme Court.

Fourth, global capitalism presents many direct threats to happiness. It is destroying the natural environment through climate change and other kinds of pollution, while a relentless stream of oil-industry propaganda keeps many people ignorant of this. It is weakening social trust and mental stability, with the prevalence of clinical depression apparently on the rise. The mass media have become outlets for corporate “messaging”, much of it overtly anti-scientific, and Americans suffer from an increasing range of consumer addictions.

Consider how the fast-food industry uses oils, fats, sugar, and other addictive ingredients to create an unhealthy dependency on foods that contribute to obesity. One-third of all Americans are now obese. The rest of the world will eventually follow unless countries restrict dangerous corporate practices, including advertising unhealthy and addictive foods to young children.

The problem is not just foods. Mass advertising is contributing to many other consumer addictions that imply large public-health costs, including excessive TV watching, gambling, drug use, cigarette smoking, and alcoholism.

Fifth, to promote happiness, we must identify the many factors other than GNP that can raise or lower society’s well-being. Most countries invest to measure GNP, but spend little to identify the sources of poor health (like fast foods and excessive TV watching), declining social trust, and environmental degradation. Once we understand these factors, we can act.

The mad pursuit of corporate profits is threatening us all. To be sure, we should support economic growth and development, but only in a broader context: one that promotes environmental sustainability and the values of compassion and honesty that are required for social trust. The search for happiness should not be confined to the beautiful mountain kingdom of Bhutan.

This is cross-posted on Al-Jazeera English.

This content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License (3.0) by Al-Jazeera English.


Al-Jazeera Presents: The Image War

As we approach the 10 year anniversary of 9/11, the Project thought it important to examine how both sides (the U.S. and Al-Queda) have manipulated the world into supporting a terribly tragic and costly “War on Terror.”

This content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License (3.0) by Al-Jazeera English.