Paul Cienfuegos’ April 14th, 2015 Commentary on KBOO Evening News
(His weekly commentaries are broadcast every Tuesday evening. You can view or listen to them all at PaulCienfuegos.com, CommunityRightsPDX.org/podcast, or subscribe via ITunes.)
Greetings! You are listening to the weekly commentary by yours truly, Paul Cienfuegos.
How are We the People supposed to make informed decisions about the issues that matter most to us if our news and analysis comes almost entirely from media institutions that are owned by large business corporations? I believe that we simply cannot fulfill our duty as citizens in this situation.
I am a regular reader of the increasingly-pathetic Oregonian newspaper, and their editorial board never fails to take the corporate side in every story they cover. It’s amazing that We the People let them get away with this corporate bias that saturates their coverage of just about everything. For example, this past Sunday April 12th, the editorial board posted their opinion about the ongoing policy dispute between the multinational corporation operating at the Port of Portland’s Terminal 6, and the union that does all of the actual work at the port. The headline read, “Solving the Port’s problems requires union cooperation”. Oh, so it’s just the union that has to cooperate to solve the port’s problems, eh?! Imagine if instead, the headline had read “Solving the Port’s problems requires the cooperation of the terminal’s operating company”.
You don’t have to know how to perform brain surgery to be eligible to make the educated guess that you need cooperation from both parties in a conflict if you’re going to effectively solve that conflict. Unfortunately, it’s considered a given in our corporate-run nation that the company’s owners and managers are the ones who get to make the rules, and it’s the workers who have to follow those rules. In the 1960’s, unions abandoned their larger goal of having a voice in any significant company policies. Today, unions negotiate only for wages and working conditions. Why did unions abandon their larger goals? Because the Supreme Court granted to corporations the right to make pretty much all critical decisions about production, investment, and how work is organized. That’s right – corporate boards of directors now exercise a constitutionally protected property “right” to make pretty much all decisions – shielded from any interference by government or labor unions. So when the Oregonian’s editorial board claims that the union needs to be more cooperative to solve the port’s problems, that’s code for insisting that they lay down and play dead, because the union already has almost no policy-making power as it is.
Let’s look at a second example. In the April 10 Oregonian, the editorial board’s opinion piece was titled, “A Nestle bottling plant in Cascade Locks could work”. It went on to say, “With full protections of the public’s water supply assured, state regulators should allow expanded use of the resource.” You see, having the world’s largest water privatizing corporation buying the rights to a public spring in the Columbia Gorge, and vacuuming up and bottling nine million gallons of pure spring water every month, and then turning around and selling it back to the public at a massive profit, is a wonderful thing. The town of Cascade Locks and the salmon hatchery next door would give up some of this pure spring water in exchange for water out of the town’s contaminated well. What a great plan, eh?! Yes, this plan “could work”, as the Oregonian croons, but for who? They’re not saying!
The two state agencies that have to sign off on this outrageous deal are the state’s Water Resources Department, and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife – both of which are in the process of giving a big thumbs up. In fact, Fish and Wildlife has just this past week agreed to trade its Oxbow Springs water rights for the town’s contaminated well water. What a deal! And as the Oregonian reports, “swapping rights to the water eliminates state regulators’ need to consider the public interest when deciding whether to approve the trade.” Which I can only assume is a net plus from the perspective of the Oregonian’s editors.
Imagine – if you will – a completely different scenario. Imagine if the state’s Water Resources, and Fish and Wildlife Departments were required to follow We the People’s will, in their decision-making process, rather than to utterly ignore it, as is the standard practice. In this scenario, the Nestle Corporation’s water grab would never get approved.
But let’s take this one step further. Why is it that the residents of Cascade Locks are so economically desperate that they are committed to bringing Nestle Corporation’s bottling plant into their community in the first place, when all they’re likely to get out of it is some new tax money and a few dozen custodial jobs? The answer to that question is connected to another corporate rule problem – that investment money is held by the banks and the 1% and is extremely difficult to get access to if you’re not one of their favored clients.
If the local people and government of Cascade Locks had an easier way of accessing this investment capital, they could have instead decided to build a publicly owned and managed water bottling plant. They could have trained and hired their own people to build and run the plant. And they could have poured all of the profits back into their community as any public utility would do. But the town of Cascade Locks does not have easy access to that kind of investment capital, because We the People allow corporations to control the money supply.
My full-time work is about helping communities to dismantle corporate rule and invigorate real democracy at the local level, so I can see the steps necessary to get from here to there. None of what we would need to accomplish would be easy or quick, but it is fully achievable if we shift the way we challenge corporate power; and the results would be dramatic towards making our communities more economically and ecologically sustainable. The initial work we would have to do is to pass local Community Rights laws that take back our self-governing authority from large corporations and unelected government decision-makers.
Specifically, in the case of the ongoing dispute between the company managing the Port of Portland and it’s workforce, we would pass a local Community Rights law that all larger companies doing business in Portland would be required to have a majority of their board of directors be the actual people who worked there – in this case the longshoremen, the office staff, etc – since they possess much of the expertise that keeps the business running smoothly day in and day out.
And in the case of the economically depressed community of Cascade Locks, we would pass a local Community Rights law that prohibited for-profit corporations from engaging in industrial water withdrawal, and which also required that banks provide investment capital to the people of that community so that they could manage their own economic development where the profits stayed local and public.
Also necessary to sustain both of these wins, we would pass Community Rights laws that required our large for- profit media corporations to meet stringent standards of journalistic excellence, so that We the People would get the comprehensive news and analysis we need to be well-informed citizens. The Opinion pages would be open to all voices. All letters to the editor would be posted, so that the public could determine where the public stood on various issues. I offer a full-day workshop on this topic, called “Taking Our Local Mass Media Back From Large Corporations”.
All of this may seem far-fetched to those who are listening today, but I frankly think that anything less will not be sufficient to get us to where we know we need to go. As you’re driving home from work today, ask yourself what you think would need to change in our local and state decision-making processes that would create the kind of community that you would want your grandchildren to live in.
You’ve been listening to the weekly commentary by yours truly, Paul Cienfuegos. You can hear future commentaries every Tuesday on the KBOO Evening News in Portland, Oregon, and on a growing number of other radio stations. I welcome your feedback.
You can subscribe to my weekly podcast via I-Tunes or at CommunityRightsPDX.org. You can follow me on twitter at CienfuegosPaul. You can sign up for my newsletter at PaulCienfuegos.com. THANKS FOR LISTENING! And remember: WE are the people we’ve been WAITING for!