Wednesday, October 05, 2011

The Powell Memorandum

(As you will be able to tell, I wrote most of this a while back. I should have finished it...because today’s events are catching up with it.)

Tropical Storm Lee won’t stop blowing sand in my eyes and camera so I might as well write. I stumbled upon this document (The Powell Memorandum) the other day and I was thoroughly fascinated. As always, those that have the time should read the whole thing for themselves. Those that don’t...

...I’ll pull out a few quotes. I found it exceedingly well thought out. Perhaps even visionary. Of course, that was before I read up on Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell. I used to just read things and take them at face value. Now, it seems more prudent to consider the source first and then read about them. From Wikipedia...

Lewis F. Powell, Jr.

”Lewis Franklin Powell, Jr. (September 19, 1907 – August 25, 1998) was an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. He developed a reputation as a judicial moderate, and was known as a master of compromise and consensus-building. He was also widely well regarded by contemporaries due to his personal good manners and politeness. He has become infamous for drafting the Powell Memo, a confidential memorandum for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that describes a strategy for the corporate takeover of the dominant public institutions of American society.”

Sounds like a nice guy. Until you read this little piece of history from Wikipedia.

”Based in part on his experiences as a corporate lawyer and as a representative for the tobacco industry with the Virginia legislature, he wrote the Powell Memo to a friend at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The memo called for corporate America to become more aggressive in molding politics and law in the U.S. and may have sparked the formation of one or more influential right-wing think tanks.

In August 1971, prior to accepting Nixon's request to become Associate Justice of Supreme Court, Lewis Powell sent to the leadership of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce the "Confidential Memorandum", better known as the Powell Memorandum. It sounded an alarm with its title, "Attack on the American Free Enterprise System." The previous decade had seen the increasing regulation of many industries.”

The key is (of course) “corporate lawyer”, “tobacco industry” and “regulation”. Presto, you see where he’s coming from.

With that in mind, here are some excerpts. There are some that want to argue that this didn’t have much influence on anyone. But if it didn’t, it manages to predict the future course of public discourse in America with an unbelievable accuracy.

”It is time for American business -- which has demonstrated the greatest capacity in all history to produce and to influence consumer decisions -- to apply their great talents vigorously to the preservation of the system itself.”

What Can Be Done About the Campus
The ultimate responsibility for intellectual integrity on the campus must remain on the administrations and faculties of our colleges and universities. But organizations such as the Chamber can assist and activate constructive change in many ways, including the following:

Staff of Scholars
The Chamber should consider establishing a staff of highly qualified scholars in the social sciences who do believe in the system. It should include several of national reputation whose authorship would be widely respected -- even when disagreed with.”

Evaluation of Textbooks
The staff of scholars (or preferably a panel of independent scholars) should evaluate social science textbooks, especially in economics, political science and sociology. This should be a continuing program.”

What Can Be Done About the Public?
Reaching the campus and the secondary schools is vital for the long-term. Reaching the public generally may be more important for the shorter term. The first essential is to establish the staffs of eminent scholars, writers and speakers, who will do the thinking, the analysis, the writing and the speaking. It will also be essential to have staff personnel who are thoroughly familiar with the media, and how most effectively to communicate with the public. Among the more obvious means are the following:”

(Again, it’s best to read all this in context. But if you don’t have time, he’s talking about “think tanks” studying and shaping the issues they want presented and then “selling” the ideas to the Public.)

The national television networks should be monitored in the same way that textbooks should be kept under constant surveillance.”

Other Media
Radio and the press are also important, and every available means should be employed to challenge and refute unfair attacks, as well as to present the affirmative case through these media.”

And I’ll close with this snippet, about a time that many of my fellow union members might not remember.

”There should be no hesitation to attack the Naders, the Marcuses and others who openly seek destruction of the system. There should not be the slightest hesitation to press vigorously in all political arenas for support of the enterprise system. Nor should there be reluctance to penalize politically those who oppose it.

Lessons can be learned from organized labor in this respect. The head of the AFL-CIO may not appeal to businessmen as the most endearing or public-minded of citizens. Yet, over many years the heads of national labor organizations have done what they were paid to do very effectively. They may not have been beloved, but they have been respected -- where it counts the most -- by politicians, on the campus, and among the media.”

With the clarity of hindsight, I hope you can see the demonization of socialists and communists. At one time, the people of the Earth did look to those economic systems. That would be back during the last time we found ourselves in a situation where capitalism failed -- the Great Depression. No one looks to those systems now. Yet, capitalism -- unregulated capitalism -- has failed again. The answer now -- I believe -- is the same as the answer was back then: regulate it.

Yet Big Business -- in the form of the Chamber of Commerce -- has succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of the memo in taking over the public discourse of the nation. The have the best arguments that money can buy. The best brains (that are for sale), the best writers (that are for sale) and the best media outlets (that are for sale.) Everybody has a price. And Big Business can afford to pay it.

Don Brown
October 5, 2011

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