Ever get the feeling that the government caters to the desires of a small right wing minority and companies they control? Maybe you saw Farenheit 9-11 and want to see how a well-executed plan can get a candidate and an agenda into office. Or perhaps you are the type that watches a magician with a curious eye, always trying to figure out how each trick is done.
In each case the question boils down to "How did they do it?" And it is an intriguing question to ask whether you support or reject the right wing minority currently calling the shots. I like to know how magic tricks are done, and I wondered how they did it. How did a few people who seem so out of touch with the rest of us capture it all for themselves?
"Banana Republicans: How the Right Wing is Turning America into a One-Party State" from Tarcher/Penguin is a book that answers that question in a simple and direct way, presenting a case assembled from news reports and public documents. Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber lead the reader through right wing funding, media, talking points, voter suppression, think tanks, politicians, and corporate agendas, explaining how they are all interconnected. They show us the proverbial forest when we have been paying attention to proverbial trees.
For example, how are extremist right wing ideas funded and put into action?
The authors explain that a handful of rich indivduals put millions of dollars into foundations that focus on their political goals. The Koch Family Foundation, Richard Mellon Scaife, John M. Olin Foundation and others cooperate in funding three major areas that serve conservative interests.
The first funding goal begins on campuses and identifies and encourages conservative trends in curriculum, professors, scholarship, and school journalism. Students who work against multiculturalism, abortion, and other "liberal" ideas are given positions in school papers funded by the rich right wing. The best are courted and groomed for positions in the media, foundations, think tanks, industry, or politics.
The second goal is the funding of think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, Cato Institute, and Citizens for a Sound Economy in order to create policy proposals and talk show guests. Liberals do this, too, but with less money and little coordinated effort to define and promote a single agenda. Republicans have this down to a science, with participants sticking to a strict script. Hundreds of "experts" are made available for talk show discussions, assuring a large audience for whatever is thought up. Grover Norquist holds weekly meetings to keep everyone on track, attended by the right wing elite.
The third is promotion of these ideas to the public through TV and other media outlets. By discussing theses ideas with "experts" from the think tanks and campuses. Using talking points and staying on message helps tremedously. Having FOX and a wide range of conservative talk show hosts on TV, radio, and in print makes it possible to continually advertise the position and points they wish to make. This explains, in part, the echo chamber that was created to convince us that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and was about to launch nuclear and chemical attacks on us. The points were agreed upon, and repeated until they stuck.
Put it all together and you have an effective method of generating new ideas, turning those ideas into policies that are discussed ad nauseum and implemented with gusto.
Don't forget that people who disagree with the extremists of the right wing are considered terrorists. Ari Fleischer told us that these were dangerous times ands we must watch what we say. Ann Coulter wants liberals dead, saying they are worse than terrorists. A film is factually incorrect because the director is a fat slob. Y'know, that sort of thing.
What about corporate access to regulations and contracts, you ask? Again, here is how they do it:
"The pattern is this: companies like Halliburton give money to support Republican politicians, who in turn use their clout to ensure that the companies get fat contracts, who in turn give a portion of their profits to keep Republicans in power. Around and around the circle goes, and everybody gets a piece -- except. of course, for the rest of the American people, who pay the bill for all this fun with their tax dollars and the mounting federal deficit."
And how do they get elected?
Manipulation, lobbying, redistricting, challenging laws, blocking votes, spreading views, repeating untruths, repealing regulations, mass media science... it is all part of the system that has allowed a single party to control the White House, Supreme Court, House of Representatives, Senate and media. Just look at the "terror" warnings out now. "Terrorists," mostly likely Osama himself, plan to attack polling places on election day. Probably in Ohio, or in a heavily African American district. We just don't know. Fear, intimidation, eliminating lawful voters from voter rolls, jamming Democratic call centers so voters cannot schedule rides, having police at polls, informing people that if they had been late with any bills they might be refused the opportunity to vote, and a littany of other offences that would make Karl Rove squeal with glee are all well-documented strategies employed by this group of people.
I want you to read this so I'm not going to reveal everything. Suffice to say, the authors make an excellent case for how the right wing has risen in power and how they are doing everything they can to make this a single party country. They also try to end with an optimistic note, that it is not necessarily inevitable and by knowing how it is done, an opposition can better organize. Rampton and Stauber point to new technologies as instruments of change. The Internet, for example has enabled change in South Korea, where a citizen journalism site called OhMyNews has made a difference in the national dialogue. (I must say, as a completely fair and balanced critic, the one fault with the book is failing to mention that it is happening with iBrattleboro in Vermont, too... ahem).
Tom Tomorrow did the cover art, and the book is bright orange so it is hard to miss. "Banana Republicans: How the Right Wing is Turning America into a One-Party State" makes a great follow-up to Farenheit 9-11, is an easy read, and might help you sort out who is paying for the opinions you hear and the laws being made. Get yourself a copy. And if you finsish and want more, by all means visit the PR Watch web site. In addition to the Spin of the Day feature, they have a great guide to disinformation in their Disinfopedia. It tracks the people, organizations, and companies that act as front groups, and traces their funding and origins.