If this was New Jersey, rather than Oregon, I'd be worrying about a baseball bat getting friendly with my knees, or concrete blocks and chains with my feet.
Thankfully, the behind-the-scenes folks who run Salem aren't nearly as nasty as the mob -- though they also do their best to keep money and power flowing to themselves, rather than the public at large.
This is the basic message of my new Strange Up Salem column in our alternative paper, Salem Weekly. Here's how "Rage Against the Machine" starts out.
I woke up in the middle of the night with a “Da Vinci Code” insight.
In a flash I understood it all, the ugly reality hidden behind this town’s benign facade, the conspiracy keeping the curtains closed on a truth-revealing window.
The Machine! It was controlling everything!
I’d had glimpses of this monster before. It took some deep sleep unconscious cognizing for my brain to form a coherent picture of how this town is in the grip of difficult-to-discern malevolent forces.
Leaders of the Salem-Area Chamber of Commerce. Executives at the Statesman Journal newspaper. High-ranking city officials, elected and appointed. Other members of Salem’s “1%.”
I doubt they conduct sinister rituals, have a secret society, or exchange coded messages aimed at achieving Salem domination. But the Machine is as dangerously dehumanizing as if they did.
Once The Machine was assembled and got rolling, it became a force that controlled its creators. As the saying goes, “Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
So much so, the corrupted in power become blind to what has happened to them. They believe they’re doing the right thing, when they aren’t.
The Machine’s core goal is to keep money and power flowing to the people in Salem who already have these things. Other values aren’t important to The Machine. Such as compassion, sustainability, citizen involvement, honesty, truth, social equity.
I never know what else is going to be published in a Salem Weekly issue until I pick up a free copy on the street. So it was a pleasant surprise to see that the cover story this time was about a like-minded movie, "Citizen Koch," that'll be shown November 13 at the Salem Progressive Film Series.
One of the after-film speakers, David Delk of the Portland Alliance for Democracy, is quoted in the piece:
“This is a great movie,” Delk says, “to grow the public’s awareness of the magnitude of the threat to democracy when we fail to control money in the political system. This movie demonstrates how unlimited money in the political system is a clear violation of the principle of one person, one vote, because it allows those with the money to shout while the rest of us just get to whisper. And shouting determines who gets to run for office, who gets elected, what issues become 'issues' and which get suppressed, and ultimately who benefits and who is harmed."
Salem has its own mini-versions of the Koch Brothers: the Political Action Committees set up by the Chamber of Commerce, Realtor's Association, and other big-money groups. They are aided and abetted by the Statesman Journal newspaper executives and City officials beholden to The Machine.
I put it this way in my column.
Big bucks support the Machine’s carefully chosen candidates for Mayor and the City Council. Political action committees mostly fund their campaigns, which, as happens everywhere in this country, makes the candidates dance to their donors’ tune after being elected.
...what The Machine wants, it usually gets, largely because our community newspaper, the Statesman Journal, won’t do any investigative reporting on how money and power are wielded in Salem.
The paper’s executives are part of The Machine. They won’t criticize the Chamber of Commerce or city officials, since they need advertising dollars and access to the powers-that-be to keep their Gannett bosses happy.
So citizens don’t learn about how The Machine operates in Salem. Voters are left in the dark, swayed by PAC-funded campaigns. Elected officials keep doing what The Machine wants. Our daily newspaper fails to report about what’s going on.
And so it goes…until we citizens rise up and rage against The Machine.
This talk about The Machine isn't conspiracy theory stuff. It is fact.
In Salem, in Oregon, in the nation as a whole. Solid political science research has shown that ordinary citizens have much less influence over policy decisions than the rich and powerful. See here and here.
Here's an excerpt from an interview with one of the scholars who did the research.
You say the United States is more like a system of "Economic Elite Domination" and "Biased Pluralism" as opposed to a majoritarian democracy. What do those terms mean? Is that not just a scholarly way of saying it's closer to oligarchy than democracy if not literally an oligarchy?
People mean different things by the term oligarchy. One reason why I shy away from it is it brings to mind this image of a very small number of very wealthy people who are pulling strings behind the scenes to determine what government does. And I think it's more complicated than that.
It's not only Sheldon Adelson or the Koch brothers or Bill Gates or George Soros who are shaping government policy-making. So that's my concern with what at least many people would understand oligarchy to mean.
What "Economic Elite Domination" and "Biased Pluralism" mean is that rather than average citizens of moderate means having an important role in determining policy, ability to shape outcomes is restricted to people at the top of the income distribution and to organized groups that represent primarily -- although not exclusively -- business.