Interesting Times

James Glassman
James Glassman Logo. & Free Media Online Blog  The Federalist Commentary, October 16, 2008, San Francisco — “May you live in interesting times.”

No one knows with certainty if this proverb is a famous Chinese curse or not.  However, one can certainly accept the fact that these times are indeed interesting…meaning troubled…in many spheres including economics and international broadcasting.  While the fine points of U.S. international broadcasting are debated among a fairly small circle of interested participants and observers, the globalized financial markets appear to be poised on the brink of collapse.

What’s the connection?

Not long ago, a book was published with the title “Dow 36,000.”  This book was authored by James K. Glassman, the most recent chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors and now the current Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.

Depending on your point of view, you may want to laugh or cry.  If you are heavily invested in the stock market, other financial instruments or a disintegrating 401(k) retirement plan, it is likely to be the latter.

A book with an impressive title like Dow 36,000 is indicative of an outlook that goes beyond plain optimism and approaches the realm of fantasy.  It assumes a perfect trajectory of unbounded growth.  It does not take into account, the unknown, the unpredictable, weaknesses of human nature for greed and miscalculation or political and fundamentalist movements which specifically intend to topple our economic system and weaken our ability to project global power.

The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) seems to embrace the Dow 36,000 philosophy.  Similarly, the BBG makes assumptions based on best case scenarios; for example, rolling the dice on an all-or-nothing Internet-based platform for all BBG media: audio, video and text.  The opening gambit of this wildly optimistic strategic plan is seen in the Board’s unilateral decision to end direct broadcasting by the VOA Russian service.  The plan clearly requires that large costs be passed to the potential “consumers” of the BBG media offerings…a Russian population with presently limited exposure to the Internet except in its major metropolitan centers…a Russian population roiling with the rest of the world in the present global financial crisis…a resurgent nationalistic Russia which has engaged in armed conflict with the nation of Georgia…a Russia whose military campaign against Georgia was assisted by Internet countermeasures employed against Georgian and other Internet websites.

A rosy Dow 36,000 outlook dismisses the importance of history.  History repeats itself.  It is not linear.  It is cyclical.  There have been other economic downturns since the Great Depression of 1929, though not as severe…until now.  The interconnectivity of global economic systems and markets has reached a new pinnacle…meaning, in part, that a severe economic downturn is less likely to be localized and is rather more likely to be globalized.  Such are the circumstances today.

The same holds true for the euphoric, best case scenario model of BBG strategic planning for international broadcasting.  The Board is equally dismissive of historical antecedents, ignores the fact that democracy, capitalism and various other “isms” are evolutionary processes heavily influenced by circumstances specific to the experiences of certain cultures.  For example, anyone with a fundamental understanding of Russian history and the Russian psyche would be aware of the importance Russians hold for strength and leadership.  The Board lacks this form of “fortunate awareness” and clings to the arrogant and misshapen belief that the Russians will naturally embrace our perspective without regard to Russian experiences and interests.

Similar costly errors in judgment can be seen in the BBG programs to the Middle East, especially the Alhurra television project created as the result of an erroneous, superfluous vision of certain Board members regarding the depth of feelings among Arabs and Muslims regarding the substance of Middle East conflict.

In all its component parts, the BBG has become a symbol of the “ugly American,” syndrome, an assumption that the Board and only the Board knows what is best for U.S. international broadcasting.

The BBG is anything but a hallmark of U.S. government functioning at its best.  It is in many ways not much different in philosophy and action from the corporate entities and officers who have propelled US financial interests over a cliff with their own brand of arrogance and hubris.  Like those involved in the financial crisis, the Board no longer functions in the National or Public Interest and imperils both.

The Dow has fallen through “support” at 10,000.  Yes, we do live in interesting times…realities that are far from the market fiction of “Dow 36,000.”

The Federalist 2008/2