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The Last Days of Democracy

Posted on Aug 2, 2007
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Truthdig speaks with Elliot Cohen, author of “The Last Days of Democracy,” who argues that the United States is in political and cultural decline, with media and telecommunications giants engaged in “a well-organized effort to hijack America.”

Click here to listen to this interview.


James Harris: Welcome to another edition of Truthdig. This is James Harris sitting down with Josh Scheer.  On the phone we are talking to Elliot Cohen, the author of “The Last Days of Democracy.”  Elliot, let’s start with your theory.  For the most part, you’re saying that our government in the United States is coming to an end.  And that we are headed toward a dictatorship, toward authoritarian rule.  The idea that we will one day be like Nazi Germany was ... is hard for a lot of Americans to swallow.  Why do you believe it to be true?
Elliot Cohen: We are not saying things off the top of our heads; we do have the operations and secret prison camps in Europe, we torture prisoners in Abu Ghraib and Gitmo.  This regarding the Geneva Conventions and the NSA spying programs warrantlessly.  Bush is issuing signing statements, which is tantamount to nullifying congressional lawmaking powers.  Cancellation of habeas corpus, enabling individuals as enemy combatants just by virtue of whether the president deems that hostile to U.S. interests.  I mean this goes on and on for individual facts as to why one might say that America is becoming a dictatorship.  And as far as the issues of the media and how the media is being controlled, I think there’s many insiders who admit the same facts that I’ve stated, in fact, they come from such—,  I mean, the issue here is not that the media is somehow an ideologue in cahoots with the government for ideological purposes.  It’s rather that the media is a moneymaking machine and is being controlled by the purse-strings—through the government.
Josh Scheer: Now, aren’t there good people in the media who are trying to do something?  Are they wimpy?  Or are they not speaking loud enough?  What do you think is the cause of the problem with the media?

Cohen: Well, the cause of the problem isn’t the good journalists who are in the trenches and risking their lives to get out stories.  They’re still there.  What happens is when the news is edited, what facts that are damaging to government, the censorship kicks in.  And the stories just don’t get out there from the mainstream.  And, so, it’s not that it is a sense of wimpiness of individuals who are risking their lives.  I think there needs to be a realization, however, that is it really worth risking your life when the story is going to be cut, edited, censored, in a way that the news isn’t going to get out.  And so it’s not at the lower levels of journalists in the trenches; it’s the higher levels of editorship and ownership where—I mean there’s a lot of reasons for this.  First of all, when you look at the media and its interests, its bottom line is its major interests.  And how does it attain its bottom line?  Well, it does it through military contracts, for instance.  Because these companies are not just newsrooms, they are giant conglomerates.  Take, for interest, General Electric.  General Electric has interests in producing jet engines for military contracts with Lockheed Martin.  And the war in Iraq is something that builds up these revenues, and when it comes to advancing the media ownership, how many cross-ownership markets and how far can you advance your national market?  Well the FCC is the one that grants those wishes and ... so there’s lots of reasons why, not withstanding tax incentives and other little government perks, why the media would be beholden, you know, to the politicians who hold the reins of government.  And when you have such an aggressive government as we do, which is ideological and has this desire to control and amass great power, then you have really a recipe for dictatorship.  And that’s what we have: We don’t have an independent Fourth Estate doing its job.  And we have problems there.

Scheer: That’s what I’m talking about.  When I say wimpy, I don’t mean obviously the person in Iraq trying to cover for Indymedia.  I’m talking about those people in power who are editors, who are publishers, who are the owners, shouldn’t they have some kind of standard, because they are the Fourth Estate, speaking truth to power ... ?

Cohen: The way things are going is they’re thinking as corporate executives and not journalists.  They’re thinking about their obligations to their shareholders; they’re thinking about their bottom line.  And that kind of thinking is incompatible with the Fourth Estate that’s independent of government—not when you’re in business with the government.  One of the major problems as far as the media is concerned is media consolidation and these large corporations that control the media being not these good journalists of the Fourth Estate, but rather simply businessmen trying to make a profit.


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Harris: I was reading something you said about the Internet and of course it’s at least in one respect the ability of alternative press to be heard and seen by others who wouldn’t normally see it.  You say the regulations we’re seeing right now are just one example of the way we are being stripped of our democracy, our, at least an access to continuing democracy.  Explain that.

Cohen: The Internet is really a great bastion of democracy.  If we didn’t have the Internet we wouldn’t even know about the Downing Street Memos, for example. Because the mainstream didn’t cover it.  And so what we’re up against is, if we can hold on to the Internet, then we still have a source of a democratic press.  But the problem is, it’s being encroached upon just like mainstream media and it’s in danger of becoming really an arm of these large corporations who are now dominating the Internet.  And this started in 2000, well, well before.  But in 2005 there was the landmark decision by the Supreme Court, which was the Brand X decision, where the court essentially turned over the pipes that send the information down the Internet to these large corporations.  It basically said that they own the conduit for the Internet.  The Supreme Court ruled that the Internet is like a cable TV station and can be owned and can be operated like such.  For instance, Fox broadcasts its program and you have no control—we have no control over what it broadcasts.  Well, essentially, this is the way the Internet is now conceived, legally.  They can send and control, you know, send things down and control the content. And if they can control the conduit, they can control the content of the Internet pipes.  And even wireless there are these fights to try to hold on to control of the Internet, and that’s the first stage to do away with what’s common carriage, which means that just like on a phone conversation, anybody can enter a phone conversation and use the phones.  Well, the Supreme Court said that that is no longer the case with the Internet.  The Internet is now—.  The Net’s not going to be seen as a telecommunications system but rather it’s going to be conceived as an information system just like CNN or Fox cable.  And what that does is open up the door effectively for various modes of control, and one of the ways in which these large corporations like Comcast are trying to control the Internet right now is through setting up these tollbooths where they are instituting, or want to institute—and there’s a lot of powerful lobbies in Congress to try to do this—they are trying to set up these tollbooths which will regulate how much, what kind of bandwidth different Internet sites can have, depending upon how much they are wiling to pay.  So we have a pay-for-play system where the bandwidth will determine how quickly you connect then, and whether or not you end up spinning out in cyberspace versus reaching lots of people.  And obviously those corporations with the deepest pockets are going to be able to have the best connectivity.  What that means is money is going to control truth.

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By John Borowski, August 3, 2007 at 12:03 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Once we had a government with two parties that had a chance to win an election. All other parties had as much chance as a snowball in mythical hell. One was the totally, which was totally for capitalism. The other party was the completely, which was completely for capitalism. If you didn’t like the totally you could always pick the completely. The totally didn’t like this arrangement, so they eliminated the completely by castrating them. As a result, the completely (The Democratic Party) walked around giving the American people the illusion that we still had a two party system. Unfortunately, with little or no power in Congress even with a majority. The totally could do this because they had an OK from our masters in Britain. The voting booths reflected greater probity when the public saw two levers to pull. In the old days, there were some good totallys (The Republicans). Unfortunately, using fear, intimidation, and black listing they expunged most of these people from the party. Back in the good old days the middle class voted for the totally because the totally attacked the blue collars’ unions and help for the poor. The middle class felt if the unions were emasculated, the stuff they produce would be cheaper for them to buy. In addition, if the poor didn’t get help, their taxes would be less. After the purge of the decent Republicans the totally was not only after the blue collars butt, they were after the white collars butt too. They have the quality of life and living standard of most Americans in a vise; and are slowly cranking the handle. After 9/11, the right used it to go to war in Iraq. The coming attack will probably kill ten thousand Americans or more. The right will use this horror to declare a dictatorship. Sherlock Holmes always said in a conspiracy look at who profits. It amazes me how many Benedict Arnolds come out of the woodwork when the climate is right.PS I can’t understand why the right wing lackeys frequent this web page. If I were a member of their boiler room, I would find right wing fascist web pages more to my liking.

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By Verne Arnold, August 3, 2007 at 11:47 am Link to this comment

#91962 by Leefeller on 8/03 at 9:03 am
(260 comments total)

Good words, and you haven’t posted a lot lately yourself.  Like me, maybe your tired.  This work must be picked up and carried by the young or we’re cooked, yes?

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By Dale Headley, August 3, 2007 at 11:29 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

There are no two ways about it: the Bush Administration is fascist to the core.  Those who deny it don’t really know what fascism is.  Look it up, then consider this: “if it quacks like a duck…”  Unless we face up to this threat and meet it head-on, we are very likely to become the next Nazi Germany.  In fact, most of the world is convinced we are already.  They see the secret prisons; the torture; the invasion, occupation, and destruction of an innocent, helpless, country; the terrorizing of women and children with white phosphorous bombs; the incremental destruction of American values, institutions, and constitutional protections; and they ask themselves, “What is different about these things and what Hitler did prior to WWII?”  The inescapable answer is, “Nothing!”

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By GW=MCHammered, August 3, 2007 at 10:25 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“It’s called the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it.”
~George Carlin

Who Owns You?
(the truth in 3 minutes)

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By NewsSophisticate, August 3, 2007 at 10:23 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

We are in the last days of our Demcrazy.  For the last 28 years Yale has been in the Oval Office.  What are the probabilities of that?  Highly unlikely.  As far as the election is looking it appears they are up to it again.  Hillary and Joe Biden are both from Yale…Is Biden going to be Hill’s VP?

With the continuation of this war of terror the United States has been supporting through the use of sub ‘machine gun’ contractors.  These ‘contractors’ are working for private corporate armies.  These are extremely dangerous to Democrazy itself.  In fact, currently the Green Zone is guarded by a company named Triple Canopy Inc.  Hows that…not British, not American…‘contractors’ guard the highest value target in Iraq.  Worse yet, Triple Canopy hires Latin Americans who don’t speak English well…leaving a language barrier at critical stages in our overall security of the Green Zone.  Perhaps that is why we have been having problems in the Green Zone.

Here is my article on the Green Zone

Has Blackwater gone to Darfur? Are they part of the ‘new hybrid force’ of the UN

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By Leefeller, August 3, 2007 at 10:03 am Link to this comment

The democratic republic sponsored by our founding fathers, has been diminished and continues to be destroyed by special interests, big money and a mass media, all of whom have one goal in mind, money, power and control. 

Constant chipping and hammering by lobbyist’s sponsored by special interest selling personal agendas, have bought and sold most of our representatives in congress and the White House is a given.  Congress represents itself to the highest bidder, the people be damned.

The new order, governments without borders or in the works,  we have seen this being developed for big business, using the WTO and Nafta.  What is happening to the little people without power or wealth, as it has always been, they are cannon fodder for the wars of the elite.

Our founding fathers fought for what they believed in, they put their lives, the lives of their families on the line for what they believed to be a new idea of government.  We have regressed back to a lopsided government, the balance of power has diminished, where corporations have more rights than individuals, the robber barrons are back.

Ignorance and apathy is key in our loss of liberty. People are expendable to uncompassionate governments and leaders, it goes on.

Only if we elect real people, people who care about people, people with fresh ideas not status quo, maybe a change could take place. Otherwise we are doomed to continue with the undermining our founding fathers new ideas for government.

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By 127001, August 3, 2007 at 6:58 am Link to this comment

Yup. However, we are not necessarily in the “last days of Democracy.” It may be already gone, which will show in about the next 10 years. I don’t hold hope. The damage of the current administration, corporate society, and branches of government is pervasive.

Re: #91910 by ardee… “I believe that the vast majority of Americans are well intentioned and decent folks.”

IMHO the current forefront of Americans are complacent and ambivalent, self-serving and ignorant of social issues. This primarily reflects the age groups of the 80’s and 90’s.

Then we have the age groups of the 60’s and 70’s, the ones of the days of activism in this country. Those who did sell out because they became disillusioned and overwhelmed probably won’t want to return to “rocking the boat” and the others that are still trying to hold on to the fight are up against time moving forward.

We have another new generation moving into power. Look at high school and college student ages. They are influenced by technology and the push toward math and science, not philosophy, sociology, or any of the other social educational subjects that move a society forward.

Will we be run by a nation of corporate geeks???

And those young people moving into the voting age won’t know how to take care of themselves, how to think for themselves, and will be more than willing to sacrifice “freedom” for status quo with respect to a safe and comfortable daily life. What concerns me about that is that human life itself becomes minimized to yield to the illusional “good of the whole” (which is really an abstract and illusion). They simply won’t know any better.

How better to defeat any nation or society than to make them unable to think independently, generate their own food and goods, or the many other facets of an independent and self supporting society.

And I can think of several nations right now that have the means and are moving toward the ability to defeat this country ... probably without a shot fired.

Let’s wait and see.

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By cyrena, August 3, 2007 at 6:01 am Link to this comment

#91870 by B Keith on 8/02 at 10:13 pm

B Keith,

This is obviously a rush transcript, and people don’t generally speak in interviews, as they would in an essay or other scholastic analysis.

So, you may have been able to understand it better if you’d listened and read, or even just listened.

Just a thought.

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By ardee, August 3, 2007 at 5:54 am Link to this comment

I have been active ,politically, for over forty years, since becoming politicized in Viet Nam. During that time my smallish group has engaged in many political actions, the most successful of which were always locally focussed. We found, through trial and error, that building bridges to the community through such devices as assisting in the building and maintenance of child care centers, senior centers, enrolling the elderly in programs, and voter registration drives was the way to gain support for our programs.

I prefaced my following remarks to give background to my views. I believe that Democracy is far stronger than many others seem to feel. I believe that the vast majority of Americans are well intentioned and decent folks. I also believe that politics is secondary in their lives, unlike so many here. The failures of our system can be laid solely at the door of the influence of money in politics.

The Democratic Party , in using the DLC as a hound dog actively seeking corporate campaign fundings from precisely those who have stolen our processes, has abrogated its responsibility and negated its track record.

The reason so many despair is precisely because Democrats focus on boardrooms and not classrooms and communities. I have little doubt that this will change, albeit rather slowly. It may not be the Demcorats who lead us from this wilderness but we will find the end eventually.

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By Outraged, August 3, 2007 at 3:59 am Link to this comment

I’m in total agreement cyrena.  Really makes you wonder just what Murdoch has got up his sleeve.  We have to retain control of the internet.  Right now the internet IS democracy and our most reasonable source for truth and inquiry.  And boy do they want it.

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By cyrena, August 3, 2007 at 2:19 am Link to this comment

Excellent. Excellent. This is what we need to know. Or, there are still many of us that need to know this stuff, specfically about what WE can do, as ordinary citizens.

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By B Keith, August 2, 2007 at 11:13 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Would you PLEASE speak English! This reads like gibberish!

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