Think Deeper: Stop Being the Ball in the Pong Game of Media

Here I am listening to my “Made in U.S.A.” C Crane radio, trying to avoid being the ball in the pong game of media.  In a country where, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 33 percent of citizens have a bachelor’s degree or higher it is easy for the politically controlled media to tailor and water down their message to a society that has been polarized by the same media sources.[1]  Locally and nationally the dynamic is unaltered, I personally have to search U.S. news in international media in order to better understand what is going on inside my own country.  The BBC (British Broadcast Corporation), CBC (Canadian Broadcast Corporation), and even Aljazeera are more reliable and serious about the interconnectivity of local and global politics and economics in this era of globalization than Fox or CNN.  While one bashes Bernie Sanders in response to his announcement about entering the 2020 presidential race the other praises the socialist-democrat, avoiding in-depth analysis of how this could impact the future of the U.S. or global economy for that matter. This is the trend with all other issues impacting our country and the international system.  The Venezuela crisis, the Haitian crisis, the U.S. southern borderland, climate change, Syria, China, Afghanistan, and Russia are some of the issues that are watered downed for us.  It is why I tell my students that they all have to think deeper, see all sides of the story, and eventually research for themselves the issues that impact their lives instead of depending on the pong game of media.

Let’s consider, for example, the Venezuelan humanitarian, political, and economic crisis.  In order to really understand what is going on in that South American country we need to go back to the 1920s when its gigantic oil reserves become privatized and controlled by Dutch, British, and American corporations in alliance with local political and economic elites.  It was from that moment onward that the country’s economic development was tailored to fit the interests of foreign corporations and a small elite.  The long-term outcome was unsustainable social and economic inequality that was finally capitalized by Hugo Chávez who spearheaded the current socialist movement, selling the populist idea to a disenfranchised majority.  His death in 2013 left power in the hands of trade union leader Nicolás Maduro who has failed to govern and sustain the socialist model under low oil prices.  Thing would be very different if the barrel of oil was worth more than $125 as in 2008,  but instead Maduro inherited an oil-dependent economy that saw its price drop more than fifty percent since 2013 when he took over.

To understand why a nation blessed with four growing seasons is going hungry we must go back to the World Bank’s missions of the early 1950s.  It was the international community through their intermediary, the World Bank, that sold the idea to local politicians and an emerging technocratic bureaucracy that specializing in oil exports and importing most of its food was good modern and sustainable policy.  After fifty plus years of importing food from the global market system, and particularly the Western economies,  the “know how” of industrial food production for the consumption of 31 million Venezuelans was lost.  Venezuela, like many other emerging economies, became too interdependent on importing food in exchange for their export commodity and as foreign and domestic capital left in response to the rise of socialism in 1999, the country was left with fewer resources and tax revenues that could have facilitated a transition to food production.  Moreover, Chávez and Maduro lacked the vision to focus on food production and instead placed their bet on high oil prices in order to implement short-term social policies that would win the hearts and minds of their support base.[2] 

The socialists have been in power since 1999 and the humanitarian and economic crisis have been impacting the lives of Venezuelans since 2013, so why is the average American only beginning to be inundated with news about Venezuela?  After almost twenty years of socialism we should have been well informed about the social, economic, and political dynamics of that country.  But why am I not surprised, we are not even informed about the dynamics of Canada even though we have been trading and developing an interdependent relationship with that country since 1854.  Venezuela is now important because the U.S. media said so.  In the pong game of media, it is just another opportunity to once again polarize the nation for the benefit of ratings.

If we think deeper we may reach other conclusions that have not been presented and that are highlighted by international media sources that are interested in looking at the issue from a global perspective.  Colombian and Brazilian leadership, two of the neighboring countries, have a strong anti-Maduro agenda not only because of the current migrant crisis but also because they could use a potential Venezuelan civil war as pretext to persecute the left in their own countries.  They are also interested in capitalizing on the rebuilding of the neighboring economy as well as the reconstruction of the oil sector once the crisis is over. 

Companies like Petrobras (Brazil) and Ecopetrol (Colombia) share the same agenda of the Western nations that, led by the Trump administration, have declared Maduro’s government illegitimate in order to generate enough pressure to ultimately force Maduro out of office and open Venezuela’s oil to the international system.  Fifty countries including Russia, China, Iran, Turkey, Syria, and the socialist nations of Latin America and the Caribbean (Cuba, Bolivia, and Nicaragua) support Maduro’s dictatorship in hopes that they may also benefit from Venezuela’s oil.

An international conflict might erupt in Venezuela;  Colombia and Brazil might be dragged into the conflict, Russia and Cuba might join forces again in order to leverage Western influence in this part of the world, and China might for the first time show its true colors in this era of globalization.[3]  A historical analysis would lead to the conclusion that this evolving crisis is not about Democracy or the Venezuelan people, but about oil and the future control of it.  It is also about a response to the weakening of U.S. influence in the region and a move to salvage it from the rising economic influence of China.[4]

While our country and the rest of the international system is gearing up for an international conflict in Venezuela, we sit back and watch ourselves being bounced back and forth by the pong game of media.  Think deeper and do not let media sell you their watered down version of current events. 

The borderland issue is important, not because of the wall but because cocaine, heroin, weapons, human trafficking, and contraband cross the porous border every day.  The wall is the ball in the pong game of media.

Afghanistan is important because we have been active militarily there since 2001, almost nineteen years and yet no results; almost nine years more than the Russians during the Soviet-Afghan War (1979-1989), and we know how that conflict ended.  Let’s remove the Afghanistan policy from the pong game of media and demand accountability from our policy makers.

Media should be sincere and remind the American public that the tariffs are our “hail mary pass.”  China’s middle class has now surpassed our middle class; lets remove China from the pong game of media.  We are now in a world where American and global corporations in general are more interested in tailoring their strategies toward that market and not the American market. Let’s remove the China issue from the pong game of media and instead find out why our own companies helped ignite the spark of the Chinese economy and why our business sector is more interested in the prosperity of the global economy than our own.[5] 

Difficult for local policy makers and our local media to reveal to the American public that in a globalized world the global market carries more weight than the local economy, and that short-term political gains have replaced long-term nation building programs that led us to a position of power and influence at the global scale just seventy years ago; that companies like Apple, Facebook, Google, and Uber were not designed with the U.S. market in mind but the global market instead.  I am tired of being the ball in the pong game of media.  Let’s think deeper and critically question the world and issues constructed around us; we are free when we construct ideas of our own.

[1] Reid Wilson, “Census: More Americans have College Degrees than ever Before,” The Hill, April 3, 2017. Accessed February 18, 2019.

[2] Political tactics that we now see here at home as well under our own populist regime.

[3] “Maduro and Guaidó: Who is Supporting whom in Venezuela?” February 5, 2019. Accessed February 19, 2019.

[4] For those interested, this weekend exports from around the world will be meeting in Camden, Maine, as part of this year’s Camden Conference; “Is this China’s Century?” I am sure that the Venezuela issue will be raised knowing well that China has surpassed the U.S. in terms of foreign direct investment in the region. For more information see Camden Conference 2019;

[5] For example McDonald’s is expecting to reach a total of 4,500 stores in China by the year 2022, this compared to the 14,000 stores currently open in the U.S.  In total the multinational corporation has a total of 37,200 worldwide.  Less than fifty percent are now located in the U.S. making their global business strategy more important than their domestic strategy. “McDonald’s Bumps Up Estimates for Stores in China by 2020,” Reuters, August 8, 2017. Accessed February 19, 2019.

Stefano Tijerina

About Stefano Tijerina

My name is Stefano Tijerina and this blog’s objective is to connect Maine’s social, environmental, economic, cultural, and political issues to the global system, centering on how the local impacts the global and how the global impacts the local or what is known in Global Studies as the "Glocal" effect. In our present era of globalization it is crucial for the general public to understand how the new dynamics of the international system impact our lives here in Maine and how our local decisions impact the earth. These are my personal views, and they do not express those of the University of Maine System or the University of Maine.