Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Media as Watchdog

This week’s recall of thousands of salmonella-tainted eggs is proof that the media is anything but a watchdog.

Two years ago, in the film "Food, Inc", Eric Schlosser, author of "Fast Food Nation", and Michael Pollan, author of "The Omnivore’s Dilemma", were featured by director Robert Kenner in a brutal expose of the deleterious practices of the food industry.

In one of the most disturbing segments of the film we see chickens crammed together in cages, hardly able to move, their feces dropping through the wire floor into spaces rarely cleaned. The buildings holding the chickens are hundreds of feet long, lit day and night, and dead birds are left to rot for days before anyone comes by to check on things.

Two years after a documentary vividly laid out the facts about industrial farming, the mainstream media is finally forced to report them because its practices have made large numbers of people sick - not to mention the money being lost by those having to recall their eggs.

This morning, a week after the recall of thousands of salmonella tainted eggs, CNN finally turned to Eric Schlosser and Dr. John Boyd, Founder and President of the National Black Farmers Association, who is a chicken farmer, for “insights” into this shocking state of affairs.

Alas, the excellent medical reporter Elizabeth Cohen, instead of being allowed to add her expertise on salmonella to the information provided by the chicken farmer, is there to exonerate the industry, pointing out that it is more difficult to be on top of things in industrial-size farms.

Instead of using the ‘teachable moment’ to suggest that industrial production of eggs is a bad idea, as eloquently demonstrated by a serious film two years ago, and explained today by the small producer and the investigative reporter, the message of the news channel that reaches into every household, is that salmonella is a minor matter compared to the (supposed) benefits of big agriculture.

The drill is the same for questions of war and peace - notably, this week, the growing threat of violence in our own streets over the building of a Muslim Community Center that will house a mosque. No meaningful information about Islam, its roots, its history, its brilliant scholars, etc.

But under the enlightening morning news features, the tiny crawler announced that Levi Johnson has filed papers to run for mayor of Wassila.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Puck the Magic Dragon or Willie the Woolly Mammoth?

The swirl of speculation, invective and silliness reached truly epic proportions this week, hence my title.

The idea is this: Can President Obama magically instill the fear of a dragon in Republicans bent on destroying the republic, or will a credulous, untutored America, like the Woolly Mammoth that required grasslands when climate change brought forest, lumber into extinction?

The back cover of the September issue of In These Times presents a tale that everyone should read: “The Manchurian President: Chicago’s Commie Liberal Puppet” by Chip Berlet. The title evokes McCarthyism for good reason. As Berlet says for openers: “America is in the midst of a 21st century witch hunt. A loose-knit network of right-wing ideological strategists, Republican Party operatives and media demagogues generate the odious smears. Their goal is to stymie the Obama administration’s policy initiatives, capture Congress in November and unseat President Barack Obama in 2012. This propagandizing echoes the scapegoating of liberals, union and community organizers, peace activists, gay people, Jews and people of color during the anti-Communist witch-hunts of the McCarthy era.”

Berlet recalls that flyers claiming Martin Luther King Jr. was the dupe of a communist conspiracy were distributed nationwide, depicting liberals as either tools or agents of a plot to build collectivism and global governance. FDR had been labeled a fascist, now Obama is tagged as both Hitler and Stalin. Yet Kennedy, who famously exhorted “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” was never accused of submitting the individual to the state.

A new book entitled: The Manchurian President accuses Obama of ties to communists, socialists “and other anti-American extremists”. According to its right-wing authors, Obama was “groomed for office by a nest of socialists, communists and other dangerous radicals based in Hyde Park, the South Side neighborhood that includes the University of Chicago.”

According to a public relations consultant quoted by Berlet, Obama’s opponents cannot attack him openly on race or on his qualifications, so they “map out ‘who-knows-who’”(known as guilt by association).

In these efforts, the conspirators stumble all over the fateful combination of “socialist” and “democratic”, boastfully condemning the idea of “social democratic organization based on the idea of local autonomy”.

The right-wing version of local autonomy is ‘it’s every man for himself’, while the social-democratic idea favors the basic notion of the solidarity of the group toward the individual. The two political currents criticizing Obama are like two careening bumper cars in a theme park, and we can’t foresee whether the left’s magic dragon will win out over the fate of the right’s woolly mammoth, the danger being that some in the public will confuse the two.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Professional Left? Really???

You would have thought Robert Gibbs was referring to card-carrying communists - or at least socialists - when he lashed out at the political class he owes his and his boss’s job to.

How far can knee-jerk professions of innocence go? (“Change? Who said anything about change? Change to what? Canadian health care??”)

How ruthlessly can our president - who showed he could be ruthless in Chicago, thereby reassuring us before we elected him, that he would put those indispensable political skills to good use Washington - throw us off the train instead?

With Gibb’s fatal words, the President metamorphosed into a clone of one of those right-wing homophobes who turn out to be gay. Trans-lation: Obama knows that the forces arrayed against him are invincible, to the extent that his life is on the line if he makes one false move (Fidel Castro is not the only one who fears for his survival). He cannot follow in FDR’s footsteps and submit legislation to Congress while wielding a big stick; he can only survive if he pretends that he wouldn’t consider imple-menting his progressive promises to those who elected him.

The worst of it all is that this is a forty-year-old story. Read Andrew Bacevich’s new book: Washington Rules and you’ll find this, page 32:

“What Americans mistook for politics - the putative rivalry that pitted Democrats against Republicans, the wrangling between Congress and the White House - actually amounted to little more than theater, he implied. Behind the curtain, a consensus forged of ambition, access, money, fevered imagination, and narrow institutional interests determined the nation’s actual priorities. Although Eisenhower was about to surrender his office to a handsome young successor who promised dramatic change - neither the first nor last president to make such a commitment - he knew that John Kennedy’s personal qualities, however attractive, counted for little given the forces arrayed against him. “The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist,” the outgoing president warned. “We should take nothing for granted.”

Kennedy’s election marked the fatal moment when the left gave in to Washington’s consensus that America should maintain its superpower status through war. Kennedy got sucked in first to the Bay of Pigs, then to the Cuban missile Crisis, and finally to Vietnam. The same forces that manipulated “the most powerful man in the world”, saw to it that the left survived only as a convenient tool of ‘fevered’ imaginings of (always) ‘clear and present dangers’. Now it is probably too late for Americans bereft of their homes and jobs to organize to obtain the rights that were grandiloquently included in the Constitution, a hundred years before the word socialism was invented. The populist but not for the people Tea Party is beating them to it.

There is no “professional left” but there is a professional class of writers and pundits who, in exchange for upper class salaries, occupy a niche reserved for those who do not wish to be called conservatives - or even liberals. most of them do not even wish to be called progressives! Oh, there is a progressive caucus in the congress, and Raul Grijalva does it proud. But without Wellstone, it doesn’t amount to the hill of beans that Robert Redford immortalized in The Milagro Beanfield War.

While European Marxism has renewed itself into an green, decentralized, no-growth movement, our “professional leftists” have been left behind.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Americans are Caught Between Two Fundamentalisms

You maybe wondering what I mean, but think about it for a minute: on the home front we have the Tea Party which wants to turn back the clock to the eighteenth century, when the Constitution was written, and barring that, to the nineteenth, when the 14th Amendment declared that anyone born in the United States was automatically a citizen, with all the protections of the law.

Overseas, we have, loosely speaking, the Taliban, or Al Qaeda, or any number of other fundamentalist Islamic groups who don’t care about citizenship, since they dream of a universal umma , or community. But, like Americans on the extreme right, they want women to stay at home, and they’re fiercely against homosexuals.

Both fundamentalisms believe the commandments of God take precedence over the laws of men, many going so far as wanting the U.S. to be officially declared a Christian nation (which was not in the minds of the founders!).
I sometimes wonder how fundamentalist Christian-American soldiers rationalize killing fundamentalist Muslims who proclaim so many of the same principles? Has anyone looked into that aspect of the psychological toll on our troops? The answer is probably that American soldiers are unaware of the opinions about God, politics and women that they share with the enemy.

Moving on to the 14th Amendment, few Americans know that in the West, there are basically two conceptions of citizenship, based on the Napoleonic Code (I don’t know what goes on in the Orient). According to the most widespread usage, jus soli, (soli meaning the land) a person is automatically a citizen of the country he or she is born in. But there is another possibility, called jus sanguinis, (sanguinis meaning blood) in which either the father, the mother, or both must be a national of the country in which a child is born for the child to be considered a citizen.

Until the year 2000, unlike the rest of Europe, (but like Switzerland), children born in Germany to foreign parents were not entitled to German citizenship. It was only when pressure from Turkish guest workers reached a tipping point, that the ancient law was changed. Children born of immigrant parents are now Germans at birth, but must choose by the age of 23 whether to retain their German citizenship, or be citizens of their parents’ country of origin.

In Germany, there is also a law of return: Germans who had been expelled from Germany during the wars can claim German citizenship if they speak the language. But now, the right-wing government of Hungary, a country that has historically had close ties to Germany, has been inspired by the German law of return, to extend the right of Hungarian citizenship to all ethnic Magyars living beyond the country’s 1918 borders. This includes Romanians, Slovaks, Serbs and Ukrainians, two million people in all.

Although the Hungarian move is in response to events that took place almost a hundred years ago, now, nationalistic legislation is not likely to amount to much in the context of the European Union. But the fact that during what should be a lazy month of August, august American lawmakers fill the airwaves with calls for a repeal of the 14th amendment, that would deny citizenship to children of mainly Mexican immigrants born in the U.S., will, I wager, have long legs, leading ultimately to the creation, as I’ve already suggested, of USCANMEX.

Our political class has chosen to fight yesterday’s battle, instead of those of today and tomorrow: meeting the consequences of climate change that defy governments and their poor human means everywhere, from China, to Pakistan, to Moscow, to the American Gulf Coast.

Fundamentalists both Christian and Muslim may be right after all, to consider that man’s laws cannot compete with those of God/Nature.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Open Letter to Vice-President Joe Biden

Dear Joe:

A few days ago you sent out an email asking for contributions so that we could have a government ‘by the people, for the people and of the people’.

I find that a bit stiff, given the situation.

Those words were written 200 years ago by white, Protestant men who could no more conceive of a government of, for and by ‘the people’ than you can. There were the only real players. The farmers and crafts-people were nothing more than a - excuse me for mixing my metaphors - Greek chorus.

(Later we had ‘chorus lines’ but now we have only unemployment lines.)

Joe, you don’t seem to understand. (If it’s any consolation, you’re not the only one: twenty years ago, when the long-patient Russian people finally got angry, the well-intentioned, intelligent Gorbachev didn’t under-stand that it was too late to reform the Soviet system, so he was swept aside. The Russians lost their free health care and got inflation.)

Now, the American people are angry, but most of them figure they can’t do anything about it because they don’t have a leader. Oh, there are a lot of organizations on the left, but we have no national leader. On the right, it’s a different story: they have the equivalent of a communist party. I say that because the Communist Party was the most famous top-down organization the world had ever seen. Fascist parties were also top-down parties, and they worked pretty well for a while. But they couldn’t hold a candle to the communists because they were mainly into war.

The Communists weren’t interested in war: they wanted.... government of the people, for the people and by the people. They started with local Soviets: people power - in the beginning. Then they got the Supreme Soviet and that was the end of people power/

Here in America we’ve been taught that communism, socialism - any kind of real people power - is bad. It’s all right to be a democract - or even a Democrat. But that doesn’t allow you to talk about people power. The Tea Party talks about taking back ‘our’ government. But when the right goes out for rifle practice, it’s getting ready to take back ‘its’ government.

It’s not gonna be people power. They’re gonna stop paying taxes because taxes benefit welfare moms. They’re gonna do away with social security because folks who’ve been clever with their money shouldn’t need a common pot.

They might actually ‘bring the boys home’ from wherever they’re fighting when the Tea Party comes to power, because they’re gonna need them on the frontier - I mean the border. They’re gonna need them to round up all the immigrants and ship them back to wherever they came from (Hitler shipped ‘inferior’ peoples to concentration camps and gas chambers, but our Tea Partiers are just gonna ship them back to wherever they came from, even if there’s nothing to eat there.)

So Joe - and Barack and Nancy, and John and Howard - quit holding your hands out. It’s unseemly. Money can’t buy spine. And if you don’t get it, hopefully ‘the people’ - who thought you had it - are gonna realize they don’t need more voices in the wilderness, but a top-down organization like a Tea Party - or a Politburo. Before the glaciers melt, the sea rises, the oil and gas wells and electric lines come tumbling down, leaving us without even a fridge to keep a people’s dinner in.