The camera turned on the two girls sitting in the NASA lunar rover. Both of them flashed their instant smiles. The camera clicked twice and the smiles dropped as if they’d never existed.
And, photographic evidence to the contrary, they never had. The smiles were the professionally manufactured kind that politicians and celebrities are trained to use—eyes wide open, whitened teeth bared in a calm grin—and I marveled a bit at how these girls had learned this PR ‘secret’ so early in life.
I can only conclude that media awareness comes early to this generation. So it’s no wonder that so few of us are shocked by the news that Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World, and perhaps his entire media chain, has been quasi-legally but unethically hacking private e-mails and phone calls for years.
Rather ironically—given the wild ride the tabloid media has given him—the original story was helped along by none other than Hugh Grant, way back in April. When his car had broke down on the motorway he was rescued by former News of the World photographer Paul McMullan—who’d already blown the whistle on the phone-hacking story. McMullan invited Grant to visit his pub any time, and so he did, taking along a hidden tape recorder. During the “interview” McMullan dished on UK Prime Minister David Cameron and News of the World chief Rebekah Wade, who regularly went horseback riding together before his winning election.
What makes this interesting is the importance of Murdoch and his empire to getting politicians elected—from Britain’s Margaret Thatcher to Tony Blair to Cameron. You might call it an unholy alliance: the big media corporation and the state.
As we all know, five or six centuries ago our forebears had a similar unholy alliance: between the church and the state. Religious positions were purchased by nobles and the wealthy for their sons, a practice that continued until the time Martin Luther and the Reformation, when the roles of church and state finally began to separate—in an effort to curb corruption in both institutions.
Fast forward to today. I just stumbled across a reference to the innocuously named organization, ALEC. ALEC is the American Legislative Exchange Council, an insider lobby group aimed at deregulating State government in favour of free-market business, ostensibly to boost the bottom line. Just some right wing fringe group?
No. ALEC brings over 2000 legislative members including over 100 leading politicians together with representatives of 300 big corporations to develop and vote on new sample legislation, which is then introduced as real legislation in State legislatures across the U.S. Of the 1000 bills introduced by ALEC representatives annually, about 200 are actually passed into law.
What kind of laws? Well, they range from privatizing public education to minimizing consumers’ ability to sue drug companies to reducing corporate taxes to weakening labour laws. The kind of things that are great for corporations, but not necessarily so good for us.
But that only happens in America, right? Nope. Paul Martin’s Liberals got slaughtered because their connection to Jean Chrétien’s Quebec sponsorship scandal, which led to Jean Brault of Groupaction Marketing going to jail for 30 months and the federal bureaucrat in charge of the funds, Chuck Guité, being convicted on five counts of fraud.
And then there’s the mysterious Brian Mulroney Airbus scandal, the one where he was accused of taking $300,000 in bribes—while he was still an elected official—from Karlheinz Schrieber to steer Air Canada toward purchasing a fleet of Airbuses (which it did), and which he somehow dodged. Of course, he was duly outraged and indignant, and his lawyers ‘persuaded’ the federal government to give him a $2 million for damages. Hmm.
I’m not saying anything new here. We all know what’s going on. Corporate influence now greatly outweighs the individual voter’s influence. Whether it’s through the use of paid lobbyists to corporately funded think tanks, establishing personal power relationships with leading politicians or advancing their own candidates, corporate influence trumps open democracy.
And if I had to blame someone, it would be free marketer Milton Freidman—the guy who connected the words “capitalism” with “freedom.” A Nobel Prize winning economist, he taught at the University of Chicago for over 30 years and influenced almost everybody associated with politics and economics. Especially Ronald Reagan. Freidman’s big contribution to politics? Deregulation of business.
Well, we know how that went. Wall Street ran off with America’s investment savings and plunged the entire world into a recession as their leaders raked in multi-million dollar bonuses. In retrospect one wonders why anyone (such as his big fan Fed Chair Ben Bernanke) would want to canonize Milton as some kind of saint.
I, for one, think we’re ready for a second spiritual reformation, this time the separation of the corporation from the state. Frankly, I don’t quite know how it can be done. But there’s no doubt in my mind it will be done. Because, fake smiles all around, the alternative is simply this: fascism.
And the welding of corporatism and governance into a fascist state is a price we should all be unwilling to accept.