Norman Solomon: At the Turn of a Century, Better Options Remain


Jan Slakov

Dear RN,

Further to the ideas of the first quote in today,s previous posting, about
how our media works to instill in us a sense of "disempowerment, of
immobilization and paralysis", read the following!

all the best, Jan
From: "Viviane Lerner" <•••@••.•••>
To: "Mai-not" <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Norman Solomon: At the Turn of a Century, Better Options Remain 
Date: Sat, 1 Jan 2000 13:59:36 -1000

At the Turn of a Century, Better Options Remain
Norman Solomon, Original to AlterNet

The arrival of 2000 reminds us that life is short. Deadening routines often
squander our time, while evasions take unnecessary tolls in human suffering.
But much better possibilities remain.

Every day, a nationwide media barrage encourages us to be cynical and
passive. Endless dramas of politics and grand commerce -- amorality plays --
are performed with great zeal. We're supposed to cheer. But many of us find
the glorified spectacles to be dispiriting rather than uplifting.

The words of America's leading politicians reverberate through a national
echo chamber. They tout global supremacy and higher market share as ultimate
virtues. Dissenting voices are mostly circumspect. Pundits debate how -- but
not whether -- the U.S. government should use such measures as diplomatic
arm-twisting, financial blackmail and military might to impose its will on
the world.

Meanwhile, news outlets are echoing discussions on Capitol Hill about how to
fine-tune the economic status quo -- widely portrayed as wonderful at the
end of 1999. But a Boston-based organization, United for a Fair Economy,
offers a reality check, reporting information that can't be found in the
media spotlights:

* "The record-breaking economic boom of the 1990s has left Americans more
polarized and debt-ridden," researchers found. A rising tide "has lifted the
yachts to tremendous heights, but many Americans are still bailing out their
boats after decades of sinking real wages."

* Ten years ago, there were 66 billionaires and 31.5 million people living
below the poverty line in this country. Today, "the United States has 268
billionaires and 34.5 million people living below the official poverty
line -- about $13,000 for a three-person family."

* Economic inequality is rampant in America. "The top 1 percent of
households has more wealth than the entire bottom 95 percent combined." The
situation is much worse than it was a quarter-century ago: "Since 1977, the
top 1 percent has doubled its share of the nation's wealth to 40 percent."

* Currently, the people on the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans "have
about as much wealth as the 50 million households in the bottom half of the

* While news stories hail the glorious achievements of the stock market, a
lot of people in the United States "are just plain broke. They have nothing
to tide them over in case of a health crisis or unemployment, much less save
for college or retirement. Nearly one out of five households has zero or
negative net worth (greater debts than assets), compared with one in 10 in

The questions that journalists pose to elected officials and candidates
rarely confront such economic realities. Instead, the repeated queries have
a pre-fab quality -- matching the slightly zombie-like verbiage of most
politicians, whose language was aptly described several decades ago by
George Orwell: "When one watches some tired hack on the platform,
mechanically repeating the familiar often has a curious
feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy."

Faced with a nonstop swirl of media coverage, it's tempting to succumb to
chronic cynicism. But journalists -- and the rest of us -- are better off if
we can develop an attitude of idealistic skepticism. In 2000 and beyond,
giving voice to candor will be a minimum prerequisite to create conditions
for realistic hope.

"I have come to believe over and over again," the poet Audre Lorde said,
"that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared,
even at the risk of having it bruised and misunderstood.... For it is not
difference which immobilizes us most but silence."

While 14 million people in the United States are extremely poor -- living at
less than 50 percent of the poverty level -- for the most part their plights
are dismissed by mainstream journalists as scarcely more consequential than
lint in the pockets of the powerful. The same goes for the approximately
1,000 children around the world who die every hour from diseases that are
easily preventable. According to UNICEF, the cost of saving their lives
would amount to about 10 percent of the Pentagon budget.

To criticize this institutional madness can seem bold, even brave. How sad.

"One day posterity will remember," wrote Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko,
"This strange era, these strange times, when / Ordinary common honesty was
called courage."

Hopefully, we'll find more strength for such honesty in the 21st century.

Norman Solomon's latest book is "The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media."

AlterNet is a project of Independent Media Institute

Reproduction of material from any pages without written
permission is strictly prohibited. Copyright © 1999 Independent Media
Institute. All rights reserved. AlterNet | 77 Federal Street, San Francisco,
CA 94107 | Telephone 415 284 1420 | Fax 415 284 1414 | E-mail