Friday, May 25, 2007

An Overlooked Cause of Our Trade Imbalances

If other countries were competing with us on level playing field, I think that we could count on the quality of American innovation, management and labor to produce competitive products in any and all areas. We would not be concerned about protecting our industries and jobs. However, we are not competing on a level playing field. In fact our competitors have financial and tax advantages over our companies that range from 15% to 30%. Our quality and cost efficiency cannot overcome the built-in advantages that Japanese, Chinese, European, even Mexican and Chilean governments have designed for their companies.

Our corporate taxes are assessed on income; all income and all expenses are taken into account in order to calculate the tax due to the federal government as well as to State governments.
Our competitors may have some corporate income tax, but the rates are lower than we apply and the systems are often easy to abuse, so that few successful foreign companies actually pay taxes on income. Instead of relying on income tax, their governments collect Value Added Tax. The VAT taxes vary from 16% to over 20% depending on the country, calculated on the sale price of goods. Companies get a credit for all VAT paid on purchased goods that they then use to lower the tax owed. Where this impinges on American business and therefore on American labour is when the companies in countries with VAT, export to us here in the USA. They get a credit for all taxes paid from their governments in cash. So their products (having no tax load at all) come here and compete against ours, which do have a tax load. In fact, the more successful the US company is, the higher the tax load carried by its products. So, we are giving an advantage to our competition, which has nothing to do with free trade.

Something similar happens when American companies export. Our products carry a full tax load; there is no tax refund for exporters. OK, that is fair, but when our products arrive in Japan, China, Europe, etc, the full local VAT must be added to their price. Therefore our products carry income tax and VAT load, while the local competitor carries only the VAT load. We have a large disadvantage in both cases, import and export.

Solving this problem will be a big step towards solving the current trade imbalance. American labour will be more secure and our economy will be healthier as it returns to producing goods more than being a service economy. So how to solve the VAT vs. Corporate Income Tax problem?

One way to do so is to play by our competitors’ rules. Drastically reduce (or eliminate) corporate income tax and apply VAT tax nationally. If we play the game the same way that our competitors do we will have eliminated the 15 to 20% advantage that they have and we will again be competitive, especially given how weak the dollar is.

The problem is that VAT is a regressive tax that is most felt among the poor. If we give the poor credits the system will become tremendously complex and will cost a fortune to administer. The revenue that it generates will be limited as well if we give credits to the poor, and worst of all this tax will breed illegal activity. Everywhere that there is VAT, there is also a parallel black market of undeclared sales to avoid the tax.

A better to even the playing field is for us to get out of all of our "free trade" agreements and establish 12% across the board tariffs on everything from everywhere. This is almost anathema in today’s America. We have been trained to bark on cue that “free trade” is good for everyone. Well, look at how all the manufacturing jobs have migrated from the Midwest to China, look how Wal-Mart went from selling American products to selling out America. “Free trade” is beneficial to the very rich and not to you. The global economy helps 1% of Americans, and they have grabbed the reins of all the news media to make people believe that "free trade" is good for us all. It isn't

If we establish 12% across the board tariffs we can overcome the advantage accrued by our competitors’ VAT based tax system. We would need to make certain that no special interests could manage the system to their advantage (which always means against the average guy’s interests). So the law would have to be bulletproof to charge 12% on EVERYTHING imported from EVERYWHERE. Tariffs are immanently fair because it is a tax that people pay voluntarily. No one must pay tariffs if they buy products and services made or performed in America.

If we go back to this most traditional American form of taxation we will prosper.

El Salto Mortal

Estábamos, él que escribe con mi hijo e hija mayor, en nuestra cabaña en las orrillas del Río Puelo, lejos de caminos, entre las montañas verdes de los Andes en Patagonia. El día era caluroso y el sol brilló fuerte en el cielo azul.

Subimos el río en nuestra panga, corrimos río arriba por los rápidos, gritando cuando las olas nos salpicaron con agua fresca. Las sonrisas querían partirnos las caras en dos. Llegamos a las aguas más quietas del cañon con sus paredes de roca casi verticales y allí pusimos a pescar. Atamos el bote a una rama que salió del acantilado a la derecha del cañon para pescar en el remanso que el río forma allí. Muy arriba, encima de las paredes de gránito vi coigües con sus ramas plumosas que sacudían suavemente en la brisa. Se escuchaba el murmullo del río, el canto de un chucao y las risas de mis hijos. El aire nos tocó las caras suavemente mientras que el sol nos tostaba la piel. La brisa tibia nos llevó el aroma de las montañas, el olor dulce de las lumas y un poco de la esencia de los peces en el río. Todos los sentidos gritaban en extasís.

Como eran los últimos días de verano, el agua del río era cristalina, perfectamente transparente. El sol centelleaba en el superfecie del agua como reluce una joya preciosa con la luz de una vela. Vimos truchas hermosas, como sombras de colores que acercaban a nuestras moscas y cucharas, pero sin apuro descendían de nuevo hasta perderse de vista en la profundidad del agua azul. No pescamos nada hasta, de repente, una idea apareció por voluntad propia en mi mente. Entonces me saqué la ropa hasta quedar en calzoncillos, me tiré en piquero de la popa del bote al agua y nadé hasta el alcantilado. Con cuidado lo subí paso a paso hasta encontrar un buen camino a un saliente 6 o 7 metros sobre el agua de la corriente rápida y unos cincuenta metros más adelante de donde mis hijos me miraban atentamente con sus cañas ya olvidadas. Me lancé al aire, pegué el agua con un chasquido fuerte y seguí para abajo tres metros en el agua fresca. Subí y mi cabeza partió el agua en carcajadas de risa.

Mi hija de diez años andaba en un par de shorts y una polera y sin sacarse la ropa, también se arrojó al río y se nadó hasta el alcantilado. Se trepó para arriba en la roca a un saliente aún más alta, casí diez metros sobre el río, y se tiró al vacio gritando. Mi hijo era el último, estaba un poco nervioso, pero se rió a la muerte y se saltó también. Pasamos toda la tarde trepando arriba, tirándonos en piqueros olímpicos y nadando en las corrientes del Río Puelo.

Cada vez que me encuentro complicado, desesperado, enojado a punto de pelear recuerdo el día de los saltos mortales en el cañon del Río Puelo. Los problemas se desvanecen en la medida que me meto de nuevo en aquel día mágico.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Adam and Eve

The allegorical story of Adam and Eve is an accurate reflection of the historic transformation of man from free hunter-gatherer to fixed farmer and herder. In Genesis Adam and Eve are free from sin and do not know punishment. They are free to move about among the animals in paradise. They have no possessions and do not desire them. They are spiritual beings who converse daily with God. They do not fight, much less dominate or kill others. They are at peace with their world, with themselves and with God.

Then the serpent speaks to Eve, who has felt somehow restless and unfulfilled in the Garden of Eden, and the serpent offers her the fruit that represents knowledge. Adam allows her to accept the fruit, because He desires wisdom in order to become more like God, and thereby he follows her into sin. Their new self awareness causes God to expel them from the garden. Outside of the garden they become farmers; they till the soil and bind themselves to one place. Their progeny expand in number and in the area that they till and occupy.

Crime and sin are born and promptly become rampant. Men learn to kill each other, and perhaps even worse, they learn to subjugate each other. Civilization arises as the descendants of Adam and Eve expand in numbers exponentially. These large groups of people begin to organize. They build fortresses. They build towns with walls to defend themselves and the territory that they claim. They build temples to the gods that are now seen as terrible, menacing and powerful beings to be feared.

Before the advent of agriculture, man moved freely through his world garden like Adam and Eve before accepting the fruit. Modern anthropological studies as well as classical writings about hunter-gatherer societies, the recorded cultural and religious experiences of nonagricultural American Indians, aborigines from New Guinea and Australian aborigines as well as archaeological studies from all corners of the planet show that before the advent of agriculture, men were free to move about, they were not fixed to one place. They built no permanent dwellings and had very few possessions. They were not settled; rather they followed the seasons, animal migrations and other earthly or metaphysical fluctuations in a permanent spiritual odyssey.

These peoples formed small family-based groups; they were a bit larger than the couple in the story of Genesis but the groups were nevertheless very small. The groups would meet at times to celebrate or hunt together with other small groups, but these larger groupings were brief and normally quite peaceful. If disagreements occurred that went beyond ritual displays of anger, then each group would just go its own separate way. They had nothing to defend. This is very similar to what wild animals will do in their undisturbed habitat. Animals do not kill each other in anger, nor to steal. If a conflict arises one party chases the other one off.

Adam and Eve had no possessions, not even clothing nor did they strive to amass possessions. The people in the hunter-gatherer nomadic societies were similar in that they had very few possessions and no established communities to defend or conquer. No-one had punitive authority over another. In fact the idea of punishment was unknown and crime was extremely rare. However if a man did commit a crime, even murder, he was generally just expelled from the group. The dream of freedom was a reality for these people. However, the tremendously valuable gift of freedom has a dark side that often leads to its own undoing: insecurity.

In all of these societies men were the leaders and their role was to hunt and protect the group, but they were not the brutal masters that they would become in fixed societies. All interaction was based on voluntary participation; any person could leave his group and join any other group that would accept him or her. Women cared for children, gathered foods, prepared meals and clothing. Together men and women made tools and shelters. Their mutual respect was based on their appreciation for each gender’s capabilities. They were dependent on one another. This was Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden; they lived as one with their world and knew no sin.

This life, although difficult, was wonderful most of the time, but these people had no pantry. They had no reserves to fall back on when game was absent and a drought kept berries and other foods from growing. With freedom comes uncertainty. People starved to death or were forced to trek tremendous distances for days without eating in order to find food. This did not happen often but it was certainly always present in their minds, especially in the minds of women who were responsible for the children. The women in these groups knew that their children, more frail than adults, suffered and died more in times of privation.

In various places around the world, anatomically and neurologically modern humans evolved from hunter-gatherers into farmers. This process took a number of generations among those who became settled. The first farmers to show up in the archaeological record also show up in mankind’s earliest histories and legends from the Middle East and then from Egypt, China and Peru. It appears that the first permanent farming communities came into being about 12,000 years ago in the upper Euphrates valley and in the Jordan valley. Farming did not spread rapidly at first because it is not appealing to hunter gatherers, especially to the men in those groups.

However the trade-off of freedom for security that agriculture implied is very appealing to women. They are responsible for the survival of their children and therefore not as drawn to the spiritual life of freedom as the men. For that reason it is Eve in the Garden of Eden who accepts the trade-off offered by the enemy’s servant. She accepts self awareness, techne and knowledge and gives up freedom and innocence. Adam gives up his freedom and spirituality to follow her into exile because his overpowering base motivation is to pair with her.
With agriculture comes the accumulation of wealth (greed, luxuria and envy), the power of one over others (pride, lust and sloth), permanent friction between people fixed in one place (anger), overabundance of food (gluttony). Our sins became manifest together with permanent settlement.

So I feel that as in all parts of the Bible, and in particular in Genesis, there is the Word of God written by a very limited mortal who wrote for even more limited mortals. If we use our knowledge and consider the limitations of the prophets in regards to their understanding of history and the physical universe we can better see God’s message.

The Infallible Bible and Modern Science

I wrote this article with the Evangelical Christian in mind, but it is poignant to anyone who is interested in faith, even if only to argue against it. I am a Christian and I am also an aficionado of paleontolgy, archeology and ancient history. I have pondered the nature of Biblical truth for many years and here I present a very brief summary of some of those thoughts.

The Bible is infallible. There are no false concepts in the Bible, and all that is written in the Bible is either inspired by God or in the case of the Gospels is actually the word of God spoken by Jesus Christ and written down by Mark, Luke, Matthew and John. Only the Scripture as spoken by Jesus is made up of words spoken by God. It is infallible word for word. The rest of the Bible is inspired by God, not written or spoken by God. It is nonetheless true and holy, but must be understood in a different way from the Gospel of Jesus.

The prophets who wrote the Old Testament did not fall into a state of bliss where God took control of their hands and wrote words which were not processed in their minds but flowed out of the quills in their hands as new and unknown to them as to any other reader. Rather, God enlightened them and put ideas and concepts into their minds. Those ideas were processed and understood within the confines of their language, historical perspective, cultural reality and their knowledge of the natural world.

Their understanding of history and the rest of the human race was limited as was their knowledge of the natural world. For instance, they could not really understand any number over one thousand nor could they express it in writing. So God enlightened them to the fact that He created the universe out of nothing, but He did not enlighten the prophet who wrote Genesis with an understanding of astrophysics and advanced calculus sufficient to understand just how God did it. If He had miraculously taught the man astrophysics, none of his readers would have understood a word.

We are now quite certain that He created the universe out of nothing in the event that we call the Big Bang. He did not arm the prophet with any words that could express a concept like 14 billion years, nor to even grasp a tiny corner of that idea, so the prophet wrote of a week of work. It is what he could understand. The key and most important fact for me is that Genesis is exactly right in the important details and the lesson that the story teaches. The universe was created out of nothing by God, first the heavens (galaxies, nebulae, etc.) then the earth, then the plants and fishes, finally the animals and then man. That is exactly what happened. Only God could create everything that exists, billions and billions of stars and planetary systems spread out over unimaginable stellar distances. He did it in one moment through nothing more than His Word. That is the point, and to me it is especially awe inspiring when we consider the size and complexity of creation.

No other religion's "creation myth" comes even close to reality.

So it does not surprise me that the story of Adam and Eve is also real and tremendously poignant to us today. The lessons to be learned are greater when we read the story while thinking of what science and history have taught us about early civilization. Adam and Eve reflect our real fall from grace and it coincides perfectly with what anthropologists, archaeologists and geneticists have discovered about the beginnings of agriculture based civilization. Agriculture tied man to a given spot. He was no longer free to wander through the garden, and studies of genetics in Europe show that it was the women in the nomadic hunter gatherer societies that embraced farming (and farmers). It was Eve that recieved the fruit of knowledge and therefore led men out of the garden of Eden into a life of travail.

The person who cannot accept my premise, who insists that the Bible is literally true, word for word, must consider the accumulated knowledge of science as either lies or errors in method and logic. Science postulates evolution over eons of time going backward; a literal reading of the Bible disagrees. So is it possible that all science is mistaken? If not, is it possible that there is a conspiracy to defraud everyone by evil scientists?

Consider that there are millions of people in the world today with sufficient education to understand pieces of our accumulated knowledge about geology, evolution, astrophysics, genetics, island bio-geography, tree ring history, chemistry, etc, etc. These different scientific disciplines are not independent and in fact there is a growing tendency to actively cross reference information. In other words some of it can't be wrong without making much of it wrong. Carbon 14 dating of an archaeological site might be wrong, but the date is also established by pollen types, early climate, geology and tree rings. They aren't all wrong and here's why. Random errors will always tend towards chaos. They will not point in the same direction. So look at the fact that all the scientific disciplines point in the same direction as far as how old things are, how continents move, how one species changes with time, etc.

The only way that scientists could all be wrong would be if God planted infinite false clues to lead them astray. Would a loving and reasonable God give us curiosity and cognizance and then seed the earth, the heavens and the microscopic details with false clues that all point to what we now know? Is our God a trickster? Those of us who have been saved from despair and destruction through the grace of God KNOW that He is not a trickster. He does not lie ever for any reason. Our accumulated knowledge is therefore not wrong.

If the Bible is literally exact, then the other possibility is that our accumulated knowledge is not wrong, but rather that is made up of lies, that it is faked by evil men and women who wish to drive us from God. This would be the greatest conspiracy of all time, beyond what anyone could dream. It would be the nightmare of nightmares, great cabals of devil worshiping scientists meeting around the world to synchronize their lies. How many people can keep a secret? How long can they keep a secret? Could a secret that continues to develop in complexity and in the number of people involved that easily surmount fifty million in the world actually be coordinated? Would each evil scientist take the conspiracy to the grave? None would have a change of heart and tape some conference where lies are coordinated?

Given a little critical reflection the idea that all science is made up of lies or errors is not tenable. It is also not a very Christian way to think because it involves tremendous hubris. We do not respect those who have studied, we do not respect tradition, we only respect our own pathetic understanding of the Bible.

So I feel that as in all parts of the Bible, and in particular in Genesis, there is the Word of God which is perfect for all time. When we read the Word in the context of the limited mortals who wrote it, we can better see the message and lessons of our great and loving God. If we consider the limitations of the prophets in regards to their understanding of history and the physical universe we can better see the miracle of His message as it grows in meaning and fits perfectly into all times and cultures. The Word of God is too miraculous for us to understand completely. As our knowledge grows, the lessons and messages of the Bible grow ever more powerful and awe inspiring. To take the teachings of God as literal is to make them finite, closed ended. His wisdom is not closed ended, but perfect and infinite; as we grow we will always be able to learn more from his Word.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Why Did My Son Die?

I have received the following trite email from three or four people over the last year, so I decided to answer it. The email questions are in italics and the answers to the questions follow. I changed the order of the questions to make chronological sense and to show the progressive buildup of the American government and military towards the all powerful state.

Then long, long ago, a mother asked, "Heavenly Father, why did my Son have to die on a cross outside of Jerusalem?"
And yet another mother asked President G. Washington, "Why did my son have to die near Valley Forge?"
Yet another mother asked President Lincoln, "Why did my son have to die at Gettysburg?"
Another mother asked President W. Wilson, "Why did my son have to die on the battlefield of France?"
Another mother asked President F.D. Roosevelt, "Why did my son have to die at Iwo Jima?"
Another mother asked President Kennedy, "Why did my son have to die in Viet Nam?"
Another mother asked President Truman, "Why did my son have to die in Korea”?

Cindy Sheehan asked President Bush, "Why did my son have to die in Iraq?"

The answers to all these are similar -- "that others may have life and dwell in peace, happiness and freedom."

Then long, long ago, a mother asked, "Heavenly Father, why did my Son have to die on a cross outside of Jerusalem?"

Saint Mary suffered to see her Son die on the cross, but she knew why He did it, and we are eternally blessed, thanks to her Son's sacrifice. His death was in fact the beginning of our freedom.

And yet another mother asked President G. Washington, "Why did my son have to die near Valley Forge?" 
Actually very few men died at Valley Forge, in fact few soldiers died in the War of Independence. It was fought with a Fabian strategy that saved our nascent country from disaster and abundant death. George Washington pursued the war, like all things that he did, deliberately, intelligently and humbly. Thanks to him and his way of being we were freed and for some time were the freest people on earth. We still maintain some of that freedom.

Yet another mother asked President Lincoln, "Why did my son have to die at Gettysburg?" The young men who died by the droves in the Civil war, died for the cause of freedom. They fought and died for (among other reasons less noble) the freedom of African slaves.

Unfortunately real freedom for blacks did not follow upon the armistice at the end of the war. Although blacks were never enfranchised there was a concrete result of the war between the states: That was the strengthening and enlargement of the Federal government. That power in the hands of the Feds has meant the erosion of our liberty over the last 150 years.

Another mother asked President W. Wilson, "Why did my son have to die on the battlefield of France?" 

The only real result of the US adventure in Europe in the Great War was to unbalance a virtual stalemate between the German-Austrian-Turkish alliance on one side and the French-British-Russian alliance on the other side. There were no moralistic reasons to suppose that we picked the right side.

The war was fought over territory not for world dominion by some new totalitarian system like the next war. However the success of the American Expeditionary Force (the Americans were valiant and very effective warriors) brought the Germanic alliance to their knees. That resulted in the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the dismemberment of the Middle East. The Middle East was cut up by the French and the English creating the disaster that we are dealing with today. 

At the same treaty of Versaille that sowed the seeds for our current war with Islam, France extracted such brutal reparationsfrom Germany and imposed such drastic sanctions that the German people allowed Hitler and the Nazis to power in order to get the strangling French noose off of their necks. 

So, if we had stayed at home in 1916, the war would have petered out in a year or so without anywhere near as many deaths as actually occurred. Germany would have negociated surrender from a position of parity, there would have been no nascent Nazi movement. The Ottoman Empire would have eventually died anyway, but slowly and peacefully. The Middle East would have followed a more gradual organic transformation that would not have led us to the disastrous situation that we're in now.

So what did the boys die for in France? They died in order to ratchet up another notch the power that the Federal government has over its citizens.

Another mother asked President F.D. Roosevelt, "Why did my son have to die at Iwo Jima?"

The boys who died in Europe and the Pacific did so to protect us and our freedom from foreign invasion or more correctly, they died to prevent our isolation in a totalitarian world. But keep in mind, if Wilson had not planned to increase Federal power by entering into WWI, there would not have been a WWII.

By all means the largest increase in size and power of the Federal govt. took place during the Second World War.

Another mother asked President Truman, "Why did my son have to die in Korea?"

Another mother asked President Kennedy, "Why did my son have to die in Viet Nam?"

The boys who died in Korea and Vietnam didn't accomplish anything at all, except to kill and die or end up crippled for life. Making small wars against the Communists is what kept them going. They needed a bogeyman to point at as the cause of their suffering and poverty. Just like Castro. If we had just accepted that idiot and traded with him like anyone else, he would never have lasted ten years. However his brave resistance to the Yankee imperialists coalesces the population behind him. If we'd have stayed out of Korea, it would never have been divided, and like Vietnam would have realized that its best bet would be to open up the economy and start making cell phones and dishwashers. Whenever we blockade some tin horn dictator like Kim Il Jun we give him a motive, we give him the tool to organize his people, and the excuse to explain their terrible lives and the reason to explain their total loss of freedom. The boys who died in Korea and Vietnam did so in vain.

Cindy Sheehan asked President Bush, "Why did my son have to die in Iraq?"

The boys who have died in Iraq have also done so in vain. They have been ordered to do great harm to the possibility of peace with Islam at the same time that they have strengthened the position of our avowed enemy, Iran, in the Middle East. It is not their fault, they are only following orders, except for the heroes that taunt and torture prisoners, or shoot up a wedding party. These soldiers have provided a training ground for insurgencies. They have been brutal enough to win the hatred of all the Middle East, without being brutal enough to win their fear.

But there is a difference between Iraq and all the other conflicts mentioned above that makes it even more pathetic. In all the other conflicts the Feds sent innocent young men to war, drafted without their consent. Perhaps many conscripts would have gone to the wars in Europe and Asia anyway, but we can't know that. Even if they had gone voluntarily it would have been for patriotic reasons, not for the pay because draftees have never been paid more than a pittance.

However all of the soldiers in Iraq are professional soldiers. They are not so much answering the clarion call of their country as they are doing the job that they were voluntarily contracted to do and for which they are paid well. That is why there is no hue and cry at home for these soldiers, and it also explains why there is much less resistance and rebellion among the soldiers compared to Vietnam. These men are professional soldiers. They are ordered to go to Iraq and kill, they go to Iraq and kill.

That does not mean that they are not brave men, it just means that they are fighting because it is their carreer, not because they are protecting their nation. It is still a terrible shame that they are dying for naught, but its not the same as before. Their unnecessary deaths are not causing the turmoil at home that they should. In no way does the war in Iraq make America safer, and it certainly is not protecting our liberty. In fact under this current bellicose President we have given up liberty like never before.

The answers to all these are similar -- "that others may have life and dwell in peace, happiness and freedom."

It is just not so.

Quoting simple ideas without thought and information is dangerous. There was a time when the vote in this country was limited to landholders, who by and large were educated and paid taxes. As that has changed we have given the vote everyone with no thought as to whether they can understand the issues and dangers that confront us, and so the level of the political debate in our country has lowered and lowered until it is now nothing more than cute, trite sayings (like this email) and 15 second sound bites. All this has led to the destruction of the great experiment in liberty that was the United States of America. So the misinformed, unthinking voters have authorized myriad excuses for the empowerment of the Federal government and the killing of millions of innocent people (our boys and so many others around the world).

It is not noble. It is tragic.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Major Media versus Real Democracy

Our country is at a critical moment in its history. We have diverged from hundreds of years of precedents to embark on a carreening drunken ride towards world-shaping through coersion and violent military action. We are rescinding long established fundamental rights. We have abandoned the philosophy of universal morality in international relations. Our country now bears faint resemblance to our traditional, democratic society. That is not necessarily wrong, we could perhaps right past injustices and come to be a better, more compassionate union. Unfortunately what we see are not improvements, but rather we see posturing politicians, self-serving special interests and a voting populace that is mostly clueless and led around by its nose.

We need innovative ideas that speak to structural and strategic problems. The missing new ideas that can reunite our country and set it on the road to recovery are not entering into the national debate among the majority of voters.

We talk and study, we ponder and fret over how to clean up American politics. We beg for better legislation, we pray for more honest politicians, and we work in politics to bring a modicum of representation for real America into the halls of the powerful in Washington. There is always the hope that a new coalition or a new idea may shine clear light onto our situation, that it may clean the refuse of professional lobbyists from Congress and re-illuminate our common destiny.

But maybe we are all looking in the wrong place. Maybe the halls of the powerful aren’t located within the beltway any more. Who shapes opinion in America today? Where are political ideas coming from? Well, ideas are everywhere; there are opinions and suggestions from the left, the far left, Maoists, Communists, neo-Nazis, neoconservatives, traditional conservatives, libertarians, monarchists, Trotskyites, progressives, environmentalists, globalists, isolationists, nihilists and pedophiles. Out of all the ideologies blogging around the internet, how does the citizenry of our country choose which of these currents of thought will form part of the national debate? How do we select the ideas that will be added to the pool of possible actions and answers? That is the key to where we are and where we are going. There is an almost infinite pool of ideas, but only a smattering of them gain the attention of the majority of people and thereby truly enter into the debate.

The pool of ideas and the trends of political thought that are taken seriously in Washington and can actually be realized are not created by the political parties, foreign policy experts or university professors, they are not the fresh insights of uncompromised bloggers; the ideas that will enter into the national debate are chosen by the leaders of the major media in the USA. The men and women that run the media empires may not be an evil cabal conspiring to enslave America but they are certainly not interested in open debate either. They are business people that are motivated to attract more viewers or readers than the competetion, sell advertising and make a profit. So their four real goals in defining the limits of political debate are:

Do not offend the advertisers. For example: If a network’s advertisers include car manufacturers and oil companies, that network will limit the debate on fossil fuels so as not to antagonize these important clients. Discussions of biofuels, electric cars and hydrogen will always be tinted the color of cute but unrealistic. Certainly, an all-out attack against consumerism is never going to be heard since it threatens all advertisers.

Do not shoot over the heads of the audience. The people who are important to media executives are the mass consumers. They buy the stuff that companies advertise in the major media. Ideas should not be so complex that they require much education or intelligence to comprehend and thereby threaten the consumer’s fragile ego. The consumers will vote for simple ideas that they think they understand. Note that a popular item on television news channels is the anti-intellectual, who through bullying, by taking things out of context, rudely interrupting and otherwise behaving as boorishly as possible scores points against intellectuals who are never given the chance to present their arguments. It has been said in Hollywood that you can’t aim too low and that is true in the popular news and opinion media as well.

Political decisions should produce news that is visually entertaining. War is visually entertaining, long discussions of complex realities or a carefully studied consensual judgment that the best course is to do nothing, are not entertaining. The average consumer is like a bored child, so news must be thrilling and grab his attention. Big hurricanes are good, but unreliable. They don’t happen as frequently as the advertisers would like, therefore politics need to be driven by ideas that will produce news that is entertaining. War is entertaining, especially when the Special forces are blasting people and other stuff to kingdom-come. When they get bogged down into tedious neighborhood patrols with no definable enemy, war loses its appeal as entertainment. When the masses aren’t entertained, they change channels and the media empire sells less advertising. At that point the war option comes off the discussion menu.

Scare the pants off people. The best way to get average people to watch the TV news, buy a USA Today, tune in talk radio or look at is to scare them half to death. If people can be convinced that North Korean or Iranian nukes are being produced in order to rain terror down on Des Moines, Iowa and Hartford, Conneticutt they will watch the news. If nervous mothers can be convinced that there are depraved pedophiles kidnapping children daily in each city around the country, they will watch TV news. The News industry needs headlines and copy that scare people, otherwise they will tune in Oprah or the Mets game.

Given the fact that most Americans watch lots of TV and read very little, it is hard to imagine how we are ever going to have a decent government again.

In order to regain our freedom and a sensible direction for our country, shut off your TV, start reading history and convince your neighbors to do the same

"The result of the overwhelming power of relatively narrow corporate ideologies has been the creation of widely established political and economic illusions in the United States with little visible contradiction in the media to which a majority of the population is exclusively exposed."

From “The Media Monopoly”

by Ben H. Bagdikian