March 25, 2006

Overworked and Dumbed Down

I'd have to get a grant and take a year off if I were to list and describe all the ways that corporate America is overworking and dumbing down Americans and ruining the country. But I do have the help of Molly Ivins and Barbara Erhenreich who, in recent columns, have summarized two of the more egregious ways corporations are keeping us uninformed and distracted.

Barbara starts us off with a piece entitled Those Corporate Homewreckers by describing how corporations underpay millions of Americans, force them to work overtime (often unpaid), force them to seek extra jobs, and, as a result, now install the American worker ahead of their Japanese counterparts as the world's top (unwilling) workaholics. In the process, our family lives suffer.

The irony is that these corporate policies are supported wholeheartedly by right-wing politicians, knee-jerk pundits like Kate O'Beirne, and Christian fundamentalists like Focus on the Family's James Dobson -- all uncaring about how effectively these corporate muggers are robbing the American family. Ehrenreich concludes:

From 1979 to 2000, Japan reduced the average annual hours worked by 305, whereas the United States reduced its annual hours by a whopping total of four, according to The State of Working America, 2004-2005. All variety of things suffer when work expands to fill evenings and weekends -- health, for example, and citizenly participation. How can you frame an opinion on the issues if you never get a chance to read or have long discussions with friends?
But families -- and especially children -- take the worst hit. It's just not possible to be a responsible and responsive parent or spouse if your work leaves you with barely enough time to shower.

This brings us to Molly Ivins' column entitled The Slow Death of Newspapers which chronicles the decline in the amount of news in our "newspapers." Molly describes the recent acquisition of Knight Ridder by McClatchy Co. and lets us in on how profitable newspapers actually are -- "In 2005, publicly traded U.S. newspaper publishers reported operating profit margins of 19.2 percent, down from 21 percent in 2004, according to The Wall Street Journal." Not a bad profit margin.

But she also reminds us that Wall Street is not high on the newspaper business, and that's why McClatchy Co. got Knight Ridder "for a song". And why is Wall Street not excited about newspapers? Because circulation is down 2% in 2004, and 13% since the 1985 peak.

So what is the corporate world doing to stem the tide of newspaper readership, Molly asks?

So we're looking at a steady decline over a long period, and many of the geniuses who run our business believe they have a solution. Our product isn't selling as well as it used to, so they think we need to cut the number of reporters, cut the space devoted to the news and cut the amount of money used to gather the news, and this will solve the problem. For some reason, they assume people will want to buy more newspapers if they have less news in them and are less useful to people. I'm just amazed the Bush administration hasn't named the whole darn bunch of them to run FEMA yet.

What better solution to the circulation problem than to reduce the amount of news coverage in newspapers? One of the brilliant advantages to this is that fewer people will actually know what's going on in the world and thereby reduce the risk that someone might actually get ticked off by what the corporatocracy is doing to us at home and overseas.

The exact same thing is happening in television and cable news. How can anyone not notice that there is less news, more ads, and more advertorial, entertainment, and product stories on both cable and network news shows?

Why inform when you can sell more ads?

So there you have it. Exhausted, underpaid American workers, unhealthy and overeating, flopping themselves down in front of television, watching tone-deaf idiots sing, ignoring television news unless there's a good story about Jessica Simpson, and only looking at newspapers for the store coupons.

Corporate America wins, the American family loses. Freedom of the press and democracy decline.

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