There is a growing consensus that President Obama is more talk than walk when it comes to repairing the economic damage created by the collapse of consumer spending. And yet, there are still those — such as Paul Krugman — who believe that Obama needs to spend a great deal more – and quickly.
Unfortunately for Obama, members of his own party — I watched Indiana Sen Evan Bayh express this himself live on LA's KTTV "news" show Monday morning — are straying across the aisle to assume fiscal attitudes reminiscent of the minority party against any further economic stimulus packages escaping the Congress headed for the Oval Office. Somehow, as I write this, the news is out that the budget passed anyway, and with some GOP support.
With the economic outlook growing dimmer by the day, people are increasingly afraid to spend money. It's easy to poke fun at the party set cutting back on "excess", but in too many cases, this is a genuine Main Street concern. Layoffs are increasing across our land as corporate interests shed their workforces in what may prove to be futile efforts to remain profitable. The pace of this decline is accelerating, leading to concern that – as Krugman put it in his March 9, 2009 article – "the Obama administration’s economic policies are already falling behind the curve."
One of the sectors drastically affected by the economic collapse of the world's wealthiest corporatocracy has been newspapers. There are many problems connected to the struggle that print media is currently enduring. Rising prices for ink and paper – along with drastically slashed ad revenue as retail customers cut back spending themselves, or close — make providing the news an unprofitable venture. And yet, as Joel Connelly of Seattle's faltering Seattle Post-Intelligencer asks, "Who will speak truth to power?" Who indeed! Who is to keep the rampant esurience of the corporate world and their political lackeys in check lest they take the entire economy over a cliff?
Oh, wait! They already are doing that. That must mean that no one is now speaking truth to power. And thus so it is: The Post-Intelligencer's owner, Hearst Corporation, has invested large sums into an e-reader system — which will include proprietarily "locking" some news content in a pay-per-view mode — which could have gone instead into efforts to save Hearst properties such as the P-I and the San Francisco Chronicle. Hearst obviously sees no profitable future in printing the hard copy news. They may consider printing an obsolete venture, one emulating the buggy whip manufacturers of the previous century: out of date and out of time.
Hearst isn't alone. Newsday is also going the "pay for the online news we see fit to offer" route, and it isn't hard at all to understand the economics which drive these decisions.
There's no need to ask for whom the writing on the video wall scrawls — it scrolls for thee.
Certainly, technology always advances, and Hearst sees a line of proprietary e-readers as the way to go. As a technologist in my real-world employment, I understand this development as progress, even as such developments could — and have — cost me and my peers our professional employment. E-readers will evolve into something viable as more publishing converts from paper to PN-junction electronic applications. Our own website sponsor Amazon is included in this evolutionary movement, currently offering a new Kindle reader and likely to be providing a newer, larger, and "more improved" version later this year.
But not every advance offers advantage. In fact, it can also make things worse. At this juncture, it is necessary to return to Joel Connelly and reframe his pertinent question: If access to the news becomes dependent on proprietary technology, how can one trust that the truth isn't sacrificed on the altar of corporate profit? I don't see that it can, and yet there isn't enough economic capital remaining to support much news reporting competition. Despite desperate appeals made to wealthy liberals to invest in a more socially-friendly media, fighting that war is – and has long been – a lost cause. We fought on ground of their choosing, and with their choice of weapons. We lost the public. Instead, we must rethink our message tactics and our distribution strategies. We must live to fight another day, not refight the lost war only to lose again.
It is likely that the news generated in the US will become the exclusive economic bailiwick of just a few companies diverse enough to cover the range of media options available to consumers. They who are themselves increasingly strapped are too concerned about staying afloat to worry about whether the Rocky Mountain News or the Philadelphia Inquirer remain in business. With the numbers of hours worked growing even as wages shrink and health care becomes too dear (increased productivity!), there is for most people little enough time for reading in any form. It thus becomes necessary to trust those in forms of media which can provide some kind of news coverage that fits into the available niches, such as drive-time radio. Unfortunately for the truth, that time slot has become the exclusive domain of a narrow spectrum of thought (and I use that term advisedly).
Thomas Jefferson called a free press vital to the functioning of a free nation, and Benjamin Franklin is purported to have said that the Constitutional Convention had produced a republic – if we could keep it. That we could lose our republican representative democracy can be seen in the ominous ambition of actor Chuck Norris, who has publicly threatened an outbreak of revolution emanating from right-wing militia cells across the land. This is no idle threat. The Secret Service is "visiting" those who make inflammatory threats [see: here and here for examples] to inform them that hostile comments attacking Obama won't play in Peoria. There will be a backlash. As was done to protect George W Bush, so will it be done for Obama — and Chuck Norris can like it!
It wasn't all that long ago that this regressive movement claimed a media victim. Radio talker Alan Berg was gunned down in his own driveway by such paranoids over his commentary on June 18, 1984. Sarah Palin's crowd-baiting comments during the electoral campaign, and Rush Limbaugh's recent CPAC blathering — which inspired The Milwaukee Small Business Times to insist that "Conservatives need to put Limbaugh in his place" — can be seen as whipping up the rabid rabble into taking violent action in a misguided attempt to save the nation by destroying it. Add in the frenzied e-mail campaign "defense" against claims of excessive weapons control on the part of the Federal Government (which can't possibly have had time to convert from the Bush laissez-faire approach to law enforcement), and the paranoia is loosed upon the land. If a chimpanzee in a Swedish zoo can plan ahead to attack the humans it despises as symbols of its captivity, could not Rush's Dittoheads – who consider themselves superior to all other simians — do so as well?
If Obama does fail to quickly fix the economy, he will only have poured gasoline onto a conflagration. The seeds of violent revolution are all in place, and you don't need a Weatherman to see which way the windbag blows. Just follow the scraps of what was once the Constitution as they waft in the breeze, accompanied by the tattered shreds of that layoff notice you attacked in frustrated rage. You don't need someone to sell you a "translated" version of current events packaged especially for your personal edification. That litter is the only truth that you need to know, and all it cost you was your entire tradition of freedom and prosperity.