[My latest for The Huffington Post.]
I've been listening to right-wing talk radio quite a bit lately. No, I'm not changing sides, and I'm not serving penance for a brutal crime. But I occasionally get caught up in talk radio's Death Star tractor beam and subsequently drawn into its psychotic docking bay of crazy.
Seriously, though, you should try listening for a couple of days. It's almost like eavesdropping on super-secret meetings of the He-Man Obama Haters Club. It provides a real-time peek into the nonsense that's being injected into millions of brains every week. (According to Talkers magazine, around a tenth of the entire American population listens to Rush Limbaugh's show and Sean Hannity's show, together commanding close to 30 million listeners per week. Talk radio is still very relevant and deserves our attention.)
I won't spoil too many details, but if you tap into the hive you'll discover an endlessly entertaining debate about how Mitt Romney is a "liberal," with subsequent waffling between support for Herman Cain and Rick Perry. In fact, I overheard Hugh Hewitt criticize Herman Cain for being a gaffe-prone buffoon, then, oddly enough, effusively pitch Cain's book.
I also heard the formerly funny Dennis Miller remark about how President Obama, arguably one of the smartest presidents in modern history, isn't really very smart because he supports Keynesian economic policies. You'll hear that one a lot, though not always in the form of an insufferable and self-satirical Miller metaphor. More than almost anything else, you'll hear that the Recovery Act didn't stimulate economic growth even though it clearly did. By the way, you definitely won't hear a damn thing about how spending cuts and tax cuts have never in the history of America stimulated economic growth following a crushingly deep recession like the 2008 crash. Never.
Last week, I heard a host named Dennis Prager falsely label the Occupy Wall Street movement as being "anti-corporate" then, using this straw man argument, he pointed out the hypocrisy of various protesters communicating their anti-corporate views using their corporate-manufactured smartphones.
This misleading attack from Prager was followed by a radio edition of Bill O'Reilly's "Talking Points Memo" in which O'Reilly warned his listeners that the Occupy Wall Street protests are becoming violent -- an obvious attempt to project the violent rhetoric of the tea party and other far-right apparatchiks onto the OWS movement. O'Reilly's only example of protester violence was a story about how a participant's dog's tooth became hooked onto the cuff of a police officer's shirt. Stop the presses and hide the children! A slightly ripped cuff! Meanwhile, police officers are attacking and beating protesters within an inch of their lives, and just today a man was critically injured when he was shot in the head with a ballistic projectile by Oakland police. The victim, Scott Olsen, is an Iraq war veteran. He fought to bring freedom to Iraq only to be wounded for exercising his right to assemble here at home.
But regarding this "anti-capitalist" and "anti-corporation" meme, it's one that's heard throughout talk radio and it's easily the centerpiece of the far-right attack against the movement. Everyone from Prager to Glenn Beck to candidate Herman Cain is repeating it.
Of course, it's almost entirely untrue.
The Wall Street Journal conducted a poll recently that asked OWS supporters, "What frustrates you the most about the political process in the United States?" Only three percent said "the democratic/capitalist system." Three percent. The poll also asked supporters what they hope the movement will achieve and only four percent wanted the "dissolution" of the capitalist system.
The movement is opposed to deregulated, free market capitalism. Short of Ron Paul disciples and Ayn Rand cultists, no reasonable American wants a system in which Enron, Goldman Sachs, AIG or BP can commit heinous crimes and not pay the price. According to Gallup, 68 percent of Americans want corporations to have less influence in America. That doesn't mean a supermajority of Americans are anti-corporation, it simply means that a supermajority of Americans agree that corporations have acquired too much power and therefore ought to be reined in. Not banished or banned, just watched more closely.
The OWS movement, like the American people, isn't anti-corporate, it's anti-corporate crime.
The real question here is why isn't Herman Cain against corporate crime?
Why isn't Dennis Prager against it, too?
Members of the Republican Party and the conservative movement are all about law and order, right? It's remarkable, then, that Dennis Prager and Herman Cain aren't supporting accountability against the corporations that poison our water or exacerbate unemployment or trigger a deep recession.
And that's exactly what OWS is seeking: accountability.
Occupy Wall Street protesters aren't necessarily against the corporations that churn out their iPads and coffee products, as the misinformed designer of this photoshopped image insinuates, but, rather, they're against the corporations that corrupt the system, deplete the Treasury and ultimately aren't held accountable for their crimes. The protesters are demanding that the corporate criminals who engaged in the shoddy, Machiavellian investment scams that plunged us into the deepest recession since the Great Depression be held accountable for their actions. To date, not a single instigator of the economic collapse has been prosecuted.
One of the rants I've heard repeatedly on talk radio is how OWS protesters are flagrantly disobeying the law -- how they're not seeking permits and how they're disrespecting authority and law enforcement. Fine, then why shouldn't corporations be held to a similar standard? Why does Hugh Hewitt want protesters locked up for breaking the law, while giving corporate criminals total immunity from investigation, prosecution and regulation? After all, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations have all the constitutional rights of people, so let's treat them like any person would be treated if suspected of malfeasance.
At the same time, the Republican presidential candidates are mostly in line with talk radio, and everyone from Michele Bachmann to Mitt Romney is in favor of rolling back regulations against corporations, as if the last decade never occurred.
You might have heard the various GOP hopefuls marching in lockstep criticizing something called "Dodd-Frank" during the televised debates. (Incidentally, Dennis Miller compared the candidates to "crickets in a Hellmann's jar spitting cigar juice on each other." Okay, admittedly that one made me giggle.)
The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act was the only piece of legislation passed in direct response to the financial sector's disastrous shenanigans. Even though it was watered-down in Congress, Dodd-Frank is an attempt to crack down on the financial sector and its use of derivatives, Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDOs) and the like, while also protecting investors and shielding consumers from predatory lenders. The act also reduced the TARP bailout payments by $225 billion. I'm not sure why the Republicans would want to repeal a reduction in TARP payments, but they do.
Mitt Romney also wants to roll back the Sarbanes-Oxley Public Company Accounting Reform and Investor Protection Act, which was signed by President Bush in response to the Enron collapse and the subsequent financial crisis. Yes, Romney is apparently the "liberal" one even though he's lining up to the right of President Bush. Put another way, Republicans and conservatives want to revert back to the pre-Bush system that allowed Enron to happen, risking more financial collapses in the future. The consequences are almost too horrendous to imagine.
Now, to be fair, I can understand why some of the talk radio people might not support the OWS movement's demand to end corporate monopolies via enforcement of the Sherman Antitrust Act or other means. Obviously the universe of right-wing syndicated talk radio wouldn't exist if Presidents Reagan and Clinton didn't deregulate the broadcasting industry, allowing media corporations like Clear Channel to buy up multiple stations in individual markets and replace local programming with syndicated franchises. (Between a massive talk radio audience and the dominant ratings of Fox News Channel, along with the rest of the news media's self-conscious fear of appearing too liberal, the idea of any kind of "liberal media bias" is laughable.)
There was a time when I thought it was impossible for anyone to take the side of Wall Street and the financial sector. I thought, who could possibly excuse the corporations that ushered the world to the brink of economic ruin by suggesting that we continue to gift to them unfettered latitude? The Republican candidates for president and most of AM talk radio have stepped up to that challenge and are defending the indefensible. And they're only a few percentage points away from getting exactly what they want.
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