Thursday, January 19, 2012

Another skirmish won and lost in three-way battle for control of the Internet

By Marc Jampole

The one-day protest against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) accomplished its objective: With three major sponsors running from the proposed legislation, SOPA and PIPA backers are scrambling to revise the law to make it more palatable to the Wikipedia’s and Googles of the world.

The Stop SOPA/PIPA campaign follows the series of battles to preserve network neutrality, which means that telecommunications companies don’t offer different rates to consumers based on content or type of service. Over the past few years, there have been five attempts to give companies like Verizon and ATT the right to create tiered plans for content. All have failed, as consumers have clamored to maintain the free flowing access to the Internet and all of its websites that network neutrality creates.

In case you’re cheering what looks like the latest victory for the people, think again. While many consumers and small companies have an interest in maintaining Internet rules that encourage a free marketplace of ideas and products, it wasn’t the actions of the small fry that won the battle. It was one set of enormous, multinational corporations defeating another.

When it comes to controlling the Internet, there are really three groups of very large companies. These companies have the money to hire lobbyists, contribute to political campaigns, support research and launch public awareness programs such as yesterday’s Wikipedia blackout. (Readers, please alert me if someone else has developed the same or similar nomenclature or has a better way of looking at the power structure as it involves the Internet.)

Here are the three Internet power centers and what their interest is in controlling the Internet:

  1. Internet content creators, such as Disney, Warner Brothers and the music companies, which want to control the use of intellectual property so they can make more money.

  2. Internet access providers, meaning telecommunications companies, which want to put a meter on the flow of the electrons that carry Internet information so they can make more money.

  3. Internet organizers such as Google, Yahoo!, Wikipedia, Amazon, Netflix, Facebook and Twitter, which have an interest in keeping everything free and free-flowing. Segments of this diverse group have their own side issues, i.e., the portals and social networks want weaker privacy laws and the merchants such as Amazon that are large enough to organize content are interested in continuing the tax free ride on Internet sales.

So far the consumer has won virtually every Internet control battle because there are three large corporate groups engaged in conflict: two can always fight off the other, or sometimes one just doesn’t put a dog into the fight, leaving two smaller groups to battle it out.

Unfortunately, the larger battle has already gone against those who believe in a free marketplace of ideas, in which the truth reigns over false ideas and misplaced beliefs. No matter how free the Internet remains in terms of access to content and bandwidth, the selection of content has already been severely limited by the concentration of content providers resulting directly from the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

That law allowed companies to own more media properties and led directly to the sorry state of the our media free market: seven or eight large multi-national conglomerates, many of which grind rightwing political axes, control an enormous amount of content on the Internet including most “news” and mainstream entertainment, because these companies control the content available in every other media. If you don’t believe me, plug in “Little Mermaid” and compare the results to any recent book of poetry published by an independent little press.

Unfortunately, Google doesn’t really care much where the content originates, as long as it can organize it for users and charge advertisers for the right to appear on results pages. And when Netflix is looking to do a deal to make more content available, it actually likes dealing with a few big guys. Thus, there is no group of big companies ready to take the side of the consumer.

Without a group of big companies on our side, it will be exceedingly hard for consumers to influence Congress to pass a law that limits media ownership and forces large media enterprises to break up into many smaller businesses. But there is precedent for breaking up a company or industry for the public benefit, such as the 1911 dismantling of Standard Oil and the splitting apart of AT&T in 1984.

Dismantling media properties in the United States is not as high on the list of priorities for progressives as other goals, such as increasing income taxes on the highest incomes, removing the cap from taxable income for Social Security, investing more money in public schools, exiting Afghanistan, pumping more money into mass transit and alternative energy and implementing much more rigorous environmental regulations. But as we gradually take the country back from the rightwing fringe, let’s not forget about bringing more voices into the marketplace of ideas by limiting the size of any one voice.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

How is the money race going?

(Click to make the images bigger. Graphics by Kevin Kreneck)

For the best model of how the rich run America, buy Domhoff’s books and visit his website

By Marc Jampole

My son and I enjoyed the distinct pleasure of having lunch in a Chinese restaurant in Santa Cruz, California with G. William Domhoff the other day. Bill Domhoff has long studied and written about the sociology of power, which means he explores who has power in the United States, how they got it, how they use it and what they do with it.

His Who Rules America is a classic study on power in America and is routinely reprinted with his always cogent updates. The Powers That Be, describes a social policy model by which a small percentage of our citizens end up defining the terms for all political, social and economic discussions and thereby dominate all others despite the fact they have few actual votes. Domhoff’s model, now included in revisions of Who Rules America, roughly depicts wealthy people and corporations forming foundations and financing university research to produce reports advocating policies which filter to the public through the news media and government commissions comprising the very experts whom the wealthy have financed. Over the past 30 years, right-wingers with money have followed the progressive Domhoff’s social policy model to seize and exercise power on such issues as taxation, privatization of government functions, gun control, abortion rights, capital punishment and voting rights.

Domhoff recognizes that one of the most important denominators of power is money. With it, you can buy other types of power, including social and political influence, and even knowledge. Domhoff has therefore studied income and wealth distribution in the United States and among the various industrialized countries for decades. Years ago, Domhoff was one of the first to see that we were becoming a less equitable nation, with the wealthy gathering an ever growing portion of both income and wealth. He was also one of the first to notice the relative lack of mobility between economic classes in the United States compared to other industrialized countries.

His rigorously scientific approach and open-minded progressivism make Domhoff a delight to engage in conversation. Always the pragmatist, Domhoff states on his website that “it is not easy to change power arrangements, even in a country where people have won freedom of speech and the right to vote. To start with, it is necessary to understand the intricacies of a power structure and how it was constructed in order to change.” In a follow-up email to our talk, Domhoff wrote “I think there has to be a combination of social movements and progressive candidates within the Democratic Party to make advances. Social movements in the USA have usually done best when they have used various forms of strategic non-violence, which can encompass sit-downs, sit-ins, and much else.”

In our chat, he freely roamed among a wide range of subjects, including how to rebuild the progressive voting rolls, the large parts that racism and anti-unionism play in political and economic beliefs, the formation of tax policy, some of his approaches to the study of power and the issue of class identity. I appreciated the fact that he used the term “welfare state” enthusiastically and positively, viewing the welfare state as the means of ensuring that a rich nation doesn’t forget its most needy and that our marketplace has as level a playing field as possible.

The highlight of the lunch for me was his passionate replay of the tragedy of the 2000 election, in which many progressives voted for Ralph Nader, thereby throwing the Electoral College vote and the presidency to the loser of the popular vote, George W. Bush. Domhoff made it clear to his progressive colleagues that the differences between Gore and Bush made a vote for Nader dangerous to the future of the country. At the end of the day, about 2.9 million voters didn’t listen to the pleas of the Domhoff and other progressive pragmatists, including 22,000 in New Hampshire and 97,000 in Florida. If those New Hampshire or Florida voters had voted for Al Gore instead of Nader, we might not have pursued the needless and expensive Iraqi War; fewer of our civil liberties would have been curtailed in the aftermath of 9/11 (that is, if 9/11 occurred); our taxation system would not be so skewered in favor of the wealthy; we would almost certainly have a lower deficit; and we would have made much more progress in developing alternative energy and slowing down global warming.

Let’s hope progressives have learned our lesson. Let’s vote for Barack Obama in November, even as we continue to aggressively push him to the left with our support of progressive candidates for other offices and our letters, emails and comments on key issues such as raising taxes on the top one percent.

For anyone interested in any issue related to power in America, there is no better place to start than Domhoff’s website, Who Rules America at

The Who Rules America home page presents an introduction by Domhoff with links to various topics and a list of articles, some by Domhoff and some by others, all studies of who has and doesn’t have power in the United States.

The menu bar sends you to six broad topic areas, each of which presents a cornucopia of research, all presented in the breezy language and style of journalism:

  1. Power in America: This section includes Domhoff’s theory that the owners and executives of large corporations and banks constitute a class that dominates American public policy. Other articles explore the distribution of wealth and income in the United States, analyze the prevalence of the dominant class as members of federal advisory committees that set long-term governmental policy and dismantle the myth that public employee and union pension funds have acquired power over corporations.

  2. Power at the Local Level: Here Domhoff details his growth coalition theory, which essentially proposes that a specific segment of the dominant class—the owners of land and buildings—has the lion's share of power at the local level because they join together to create a growth coalition that biases the area in favor of unmitigated development. Perhaps the most interesting part of this section of the website is the case studies of New Haven, Atlanta and San Francisco. I have found this section particularly useful in my public relations business, especially in my advice to outsiders wishing to break into regional business markets and social circles.

  3. Social Change: The articles in the Social Change section of the Who Rules American website include analyses of the successes and failures of social change movements in the U.S. and advice for progressive activists on how to move forward.

  4. Theories of Power: In this section, Domhoff considers a number of older theories of power, including the still-relevant ideas expressed by C. Wright Mills in The Power Elite.

  5. Studying Power: This section studies how to study power. It includes a history of power structure research in the United States and a step-by-step guide on how to do research in the power structure in your community.

  6. Santa Cruz: The Leftmost City is a long essay by Domhoff on progressive politics in the beach and university town of Santa Cruz, California, where Domhoff has resided for more than 40 years.

For anyone interested in learning how things really work in the United States, perusing Who Rules America is akin to eating potato chips. It’s hard to read just one article.

Once you’ve pored over the website for a bit, why don’t you go to your nearest bookstore or visit the website of your favorite online book dealer and order/buy one or more of Domhoff’s books. Not only will you support the research of one of our most important sociologists, you will also be alerting the publishing industry and the political elite that carefully monitor media sales that there is a large and growing market for political and social books from a left and progressive perspective.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Forbes publisher says Kodak failed because of Rochester location, but wouldn’t blame poverty for a person’s failure

By Marc Jampole

Rich Karlgaard’s publication, Forbes, has long glorified the lone captain of industry who shapes the destiny of companies and nations. The flip side of its great man theory is the belief that people are responsible for their own fates and should not depend on government for handouts. Before and during Karlgaard’s rein as Forbes’ publisher, the publication has pursued both the great man and the no entitlements themes with a vengeance.

Yet in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece over the weekend, Karlgaard misapplies a chic theory of early human history to blame the failure of Kodak on its Rochester location. It’s not the great, or in this case, not-so-great, man who brought Kodak down, it was the fact that Rochester didn‘t have enough creative buzz and talented people to help Kodak make the transition from film to digital picture-taking.

Let’s start with the facts of the article. In documenting Kodak’s decline, Karlgaard makes a strong case that Kodak died of its own short-term greed. Despite an early lead in digital technology, it preferred to sell the cash cow of film, which gave its digital competitors time to build an enormous market lead. That’s the story Karlgaard tells, but he then uses the old rhetorical device of not matching the facts to the conclusion.

To demonstrate that it was the backwater qualities of Rochester and not the stupidity of management that sunk Kodak, Karlgaard mentions a few other cases —paltry anecdotal evidence that is also contradictory since it forces him to label Boston as another backwater. In addition, Karlgaard forgets that while Kodak had its headquarters in Rochester, it had research and manufacturing facilities all over the world.

Although Karlgaard details the stupid tricks of the management of Kodak, Digital Equipment, Data General and Wang, he blames the places where these companies were headquartered. Some amorphous quality he calls “innovation and adaptation” resides not in individuals or the corporate cultures of companies, but in the region. Some regions got it and some regions ain’t. This kind of argument borders on racism, because positive and negative qualities are falsely attributed to a population.

Karlgaard presents no evidence, only his assertion that Rochester failed Kodak as a location for a company more than Kodak failed Rochester through the stupidity of its senior management. I’m guessing that Karlgaard or one of his ghost writers recently has stumbled upon a recent theory of early human history that proposes that European civilization and its American extension dominate the world and that the reason for it is the accident of geography. This theory, popularized by Ian Morris in his Why the West Rules—For Now, is still in dispute, as is the idea that the West has mostly dominated the world stage throughout the ages. Moreover, Morris and others are talking about the change geography compels over hundreds of years among populations of millions of individual entities in locations defined as much larger than a single metropolitan area. Applying the idea to one company over a 40-year period distorts whatever validity this theory may have.

With or without this new scientific idea, Karlgaard makes one of the most specious arguments I have read in the news media in a long time. Behind it is the odious idea that business folk operate on a different standard from others. Even if she/he made mistakes, the business master of the universe can’t be at fault, so it must be her/his environment. Unspoken are the many times that Karlgaard and the staff he hires and fires have rejected the environment argument for the failures of the poor or disadvantaged.

The double standard is the unspoken premise behind many rightwing ideas. For example, why is it that conservatives always argue that corporations and industries don’t need regulation and inspections to keep employees and the public safe? Where did business owners and executives obtain such high ethics that there aren’t even a few rotten apples in the barrel? Meanwhile, the same conservatives argue for limiting the length of unemployment benefits because regular working stiffs—not the dedicated and altruistic business owner—can’t be trusted and will not look for a job if the steady check is coming in. The same conservatives want to impose a greater paperwork burden to get food stamps and Medicaid and to register to vote, even as they bemoan paperwork for businesses.

Karlgaard implies the same argument in his Wall Street Journal piece. It couldn’t possibly be the captain of industry, so it must be the rough seas in the home port.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Selections from the February 1, 2012 issue

COVER/Matt Duss
Neocon hawks learned nothing from Iraq

Fear strikes home


RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Support your local dairy

Romney leads flight south;
Romney twists job creation stats;
Mitt’s mendacity monitored;
Huckabee chides GOP Obamania;
Santorum’s most outrageous statements;
Medicare still more efficient than private insurance;
Boeing reneges on Kansas jobs in tanker deal;
Romney tax plan hits working poor, middle class;
What if Republicans sweep?;
Some rights for detainees in defense bill;
GOP presidential tax plans favor richest 1%;
Heating assistance cut in time for winter;
Wall Street helps Scott Brown raise funds against Warren;
'Progressive' label OK with Americans;
Ariz. city candidate faces English test;
Alternate party status ...

Occupy should target food system

End of Iraq reminiscent of Vietnam

‘Citizens United’ downs Newt, and us

Occupy movement rebels on Internet

Repubs court Jewish vote with little success

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
Contraception vs. laissez-faire economics

1% market fake American dream

The uses and misuses of history

Women fill lesser roles in Asian businesses

Honesty in short supply in Washington

Recounting best and worst of 2011 politics

Good movies buried by Hollywood machine

Hipsters try to make it in Manhattan

and more ...