Saturday June 16, 2012

PITTSFIELD

Justice Louis Brandeis famously said, "Sunshine is the best disinfectant." Brandeis was a champion of President Woodrow Wilson’s "New Freedom" policies. The New Freedom was aimed at banking reform, tariff reduction, and the elimination of monopolies and trusts.

It formed the platform for Wilson’s 1912 presidential bid. In 1913, after Wilson was elected president, Brandeis wrote a series of articles for Harper’s Weekly which outlined why the New Freedom was necessary. In 1914, the articles were collected and published as a book titled "Other People’s Money -- and How the Bankers Use It."

The articles drove home the importance of transparency. The Pujo Committee was a congressional subcommittee that in 1913 concluded that there was indeed a Money Trust comprised of a small community of influential financial leaders that had gained control of major transportation, manufacturing, mining, telecommunications and financial markets. The money that the bankers controlled was not their own money but "other people’s money" that they had in their banks. And yet the people did not know how their own money was being used, often without their best interest in mind.

In a chapter entitled "What publicity can do," Brandeis wrote: "Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.


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And publicity has already played an important part in the struggle against the Money Trust. The Pujo Committee has, in the disclosure of the facts concerning financial concentration, made a most important contribution toward attainment of the New Freedom. The battlefield has been surveyed and charted. The hostile forces have been located, counted and appraised. That was a necessary first step -- and a long one -- towards relief."

Publicity is indeed the necessary first step for sound government. It is why we have the Freedom of Information Act. It is why we have open meeting laws. It is why we have laws mandating disclosure of political donations.

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Larry Kratka donates countless hours to WTBR, the local high school radio station at Taconic. He cares about our youth. Yet this good man, our noble hero, exhibits a hero’s tragic flaw: his failure to stand up to the powers that be about his cancellation of Bill Sturgeon’s proposed radio show on WTBR.

Clarence Fanto recently reported in The Eagle that Mr. Kratka "cited incoming political pressure for the decision, but asserted he’s not sure where it came from." On WTBR’s Facebook page, Mr. Kratka posted, "There are apparently some officials in Pittsfield government who are terrified of what Bill would do to them. Once [verified]. . . there may be a news story done on it by someone. . . so everyone knows who these people are." "Once verified"? He’s "not sure where it came from"? This does not make sense. Mr. Kratka is the program director at WTBR. How is it possible that the very man who is in charge of programming does not know who pressured him into not airing Sturgeon, after he already announced he would?

I called Mr. Kratka. He confirmed this important fact: It is he alone that decides which programs will appear on WTBR. I was going to ask how it was possible that he did not know who was pressuring him to cancel the Sturgeon show, but he refused to talk about the subject. He said that the "whole thing is ridiculous." He added that people need to "get a life." Bill Sturgeon asks, "I don’t understand why [Kratka] as a newsman doesn’t understand why everyone wants to know the names of the people." While Mr. Kratka claims the questions are ridiculous, they are not.

Arguably, what goes on even in a private radio station with regard to programming is a public issue, because it is the public that owns the airwaves from which the station broadcasts. But WTBR is publicly funded with municipal taxpayer dollars -- the quintessence of "other people’s money." An invisible hand wary of Sturgeon’s speech has elected to silence him with regard to a radio station that you pay for, over airwaves of which you own.

Brandeis is right. Locating, counting, and appraising hostile forces is a sine qua non of a functioning democracy. It was true of money trust in 1912. It is true of those that control the publicly funded airwaves in 2012.

Rinaldo Del Gallo’s columns have appeared in newspapers across the country.