It sure is funny that, at basically the same time, state legislatures across the country began passing a slew of similar measures attacking collective bargaining, undocumented immigration and abortion, right? Just a weird coincidence, I’m sure, this sudden nationwide war on public employee unions and immigrants and women.
Hah, I am just kidding. We all know it’s because of lobbyists and the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC is sort of a Match.com for state lawmakers and the nation’s worst industry lobbies. The Center for Media and Democracy’s ALEC Exposed project has a handy list of the hundreds of bills ALEC pushes in every state in the union, on subjects ranging from school vouchers to gutting environmental regulations to opposition to the National Popular Vote Compact. (Yeah, that one I don’t even get.)
Here’s how the ALEC process works: GOP state legislators go to fancy conferences where they sit down with lobbyists and right-wing activists and draft right-wing legislation together. They return home and introduce it without mentioning the source. The lobbies then throw some cash at the legislators working to advance their agenda. Then, these days, the bill passes, and everyone else gets around to getting outraged about it, long after their outrage would do much good. Repeat.
This is how incredibly similar anti-immigration bills end up passing, independently, in Arizona and Tennessee. This is how bills against public employee collective bargaining end up passing in Wisconsin and Indiana. This is the process behind state resolutions banning the establishment of “Obamacare.” Our biggest national wars are being fought, and largely won, in the statehouses, with liberal activists not even joining the fight until after they’ve lost it.
Liberals aren’t this good at local politics. Unions and low-income organizations like ACORN used to take care of lobbying and politicking at the state and community level, but, oh, look what’s happened to them. Defunded!
It took a while for Democrats to figure out that they should have their own Heritage Foundation, and so far, they seem to be taking just as long to decide to create their own ALEC. (Of course the Democratic ALEC will probably also push “school reform” and pro-telecom bills and whatever else rich Democratic donors want.)
As a result of that late adoption, the famous laboratories of democracy are now often the places where massive, monied interests — along with their odd allies in the religious right — can implement their political agendas piece by piece, instead of trying to get their dream bills through the U.S. Congress, where all the cameras and journalists are. The sudden death of the small- and midmarket newspaper certainly helps. Your average local TV news doesn’t really do sophisticated policy analysis.
The closest thing liberals even have to a state to experiment with is … California, with its property-tax cap and public rejections of gay marriage and marijuana legalization. (Right-wingers know better than to trust legislating to the popular ballot, even though they’re quite good at organizing and spending huge sums of money to win ballot measures.)
Oh, the record number of bills restricting access to abortion services nationwide? That one might just be the natural Republican enthusiasm for controlling women’s bodies. I mean, the right-to-life groups obviously jumped into action when the GOP came into power and lobbied for all of the 162 new restrictions on reproductive rights enacted since the start of the year, but I’m not sure any specific business lobby benefits from it.
By: Alex Pareene, Salon, July 14, 2011
So here’s the synopsis of my forthcoming exposé emulating Evelyn Waugh’s novel “Scoop.” I conceived it during an email exchange with a French friend who’s an expert on the British satirist.
The working title is “Scantily Clad.”
A tabloid newspaper hires buxom ladies to “have it off,” as the Brits say, with politicians, celebrities, members of the royal family and the Manchester United Football Club. Once done, the editors hire a hitman to kill them off, and a psychic to help Scotland Yard find the bodies — preferably naked in luxury hotel suites or stately country homes with riding stables and formal gardens.
Is there a serial killer among the aristocrats? Millions of yobbos (working-class folks) demand to know. Enter an intrepid French politician with a hyphenated name to expose the plot by exposing himself to a buxom hotel maid dispatched by the Daily Wank to seduce him…
OK, that’s enough. Even if I could write fiction, I couldn’t write British fiction. Besides, satire depends upon comic exaggeration, while the deepening scandal involving Rupert Murdoch’s News International corporation has far surpassed my puerile imaginings.
After all, prostitutes get bumped off every day in this fallen world. For a newspaper to exploit the families of kidnapped 13-year-old girls, the victims of terrorist attacks, and the families of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, however, implies an indifference to human dignity that can only be described as depraved. All that and more was apparently done by Murdoch’s now-defunct News of the World.
News International shuttered the weekly tabloid in a transparent attempt to pretend that executives have been shocked by the transgressions of overzealous staffers.
Meanwhile, the Sun, Murdoch’s other London tabloid, obtained the medical records of then Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s 4-month-old son. Brown said that he and his wife were “in tears” on learning that their infant’s cystic fibrosis would decorate the newspaper’s front page.
Brown has accused another Murdoch newspaper, the allegedly respectable Sunday Times, of hiring “known criminals” to rummage through his bank accounts, legal records and tax returns.
“If I,” Brown has said, “with all the protection and all the defenses and all the security that a chancellor of the Exchequer or a prime minister, am so vulnerable to unscrupulous tactics, to unlawful tactics, methods that have been used in the way we have found, what about the ordinary citizen?”
So that’s lesson one. Privacy in the digital age no longer exists. The more fortunate or, in the case of victims of terrorism or tragedy, the more unfortunate you are, the more your intimate sins and sorrows will be merchandised as infotainment for the rabble.
Perhaps British audiences titillated to hear of Prince Charles’ wish to become a tampon shouldn’t be so horrified to see innocent crime victims treated as rudely as philandering aristocrats.
After all, Murdoch’s minions may have rationalized, what does it matter why somebody’s famous? Fame has no rights.
Even more than his fiercely competitive business practices, it’s Murdoch’s unsparingly cynical view of human nature that’s made him the most powerful media mogul in the world. Mass audiences respond to voyeurism: sex, violence, personal tragedy, and racial and political melodrama. And in Great Britain particularly, people yearn to see the mighty humiliated.
Nevertheless, the British are horrified. They’re outraged about journalists bribing cops, about interfering in murder investigations, about identity theft, and about hacking thousands of cellphones, even as News International executives assured Parliament that a handful of rogue employees were involved. (News flash: Newspaper staffers can’t authorize six-figure payoffs.)
Murdoch’s coziness with Tory and Labour politicians alike has become a problem for him and them. See, something else people love is the vicarious pleasure of watching a coverup come undone. News International big shots are face cards, too. Prominent careers will be ruined; powerful people are going to prison.
Meanwhile, notice how studiously everybody in the United States is concentrating on the purely British aspects of the scandal? Murdoch’s ruthless; he gets even. Besides, a person could end up working for him.
However, cracks have developed in the transatlantic wall. Already, a former New York cop has said News of the World offered him cash to hack the cells of the 9/11 dead. Les Hinton, the longtime aide that Murdoch placed in charge of the Wall Street Journal, is among those who gave now-inoperative testimony to Parliament in 2007. One bad apple, he said.
Even Roger Cohen, for my money the New York Times’ best columnist, defends Murdoch’s “visionary, risk-taking determination” even as he deplores the influence of his biggest moneymaker, Fox News. “[With] its shrill right-wing demagoguery masquerading as news,” he writes, “[Fox has] made a significant contribution to the polarization of American politics, the erosion of reasoned debate, the debunking of reason itself, and the ensuing Washington paralysis.”
Apart from having the moral imagination of a water moccasin, in other words, Rupert Murdoch’s just a terrific guy.
By: Gene Lyons, Columnist, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, published in Salon, July 13, 2011