Friday, February 25, 2005

Points to Ponder

"The Kansas conservatives like to refer to moderate Republicans as 'liberals,' and in their struggle with the Mods for control of the Republican Party the Cons imagine that they are confronting a local arm of the fabled 'establishment.' For them the war is a set piece right out of the works of Ann Coulter or the monologues of Rush Limbaugh: the common people versus a haughty, know-it-all liberal power structure.
"The Mods are plenty conservative in their economic views...But they also fulfill the liberal-elite stereotype, if all you consider are the cultural attributes of liberaldom made famous by the good-natured loathing of commentators like David Brooks. There are moderate Kansas Republicans who drink chardonnay and who put Martha's Vineyard stickers on their Saabs. There are Mods who insist on European-style coffee and whole-grain breads and high-end chocolates. There are Mods who shop at Restoration Hardware and Whole Foods and who look down on those who shop at Wal-Mart. There are Mods who listen to NPR and who insist on speaking French to the waitress when at a French restaurant. There are Mods who go to gay-friendly, super-Waspy Episcopal churches and who disapprove of the Patriot Act and who rally in support of immigrant rights. And there are Mods who assume that all working-class whites are racist.
"But such people aren't liberal. What they are is corporate. Their habits and opinions owe far more to the standards of courtesy and taste that prevail within the white-collar world than they do to Franklin Roosevelt and the United Mine Workers...
"And as corporate types, these Mods are the primary beneficiaries of the class war that rages against them. Although the Cons vituperate against the high and mighty, the policies they help enact - deregulating, privatizing - only serve to make the Mods higher and mightier still. And while it may hurt the Mods' feelings to overhear their secretaries referring to them as RINOs, the many rounds of tax cuts the Cons have accomplished have surely made the sting subside. The Mods win even when they lose.
"This situation may be paradoxical, but it is also universal. For decades Americans have experienced a populist uprising that only benefits the people it is supposed to be targeting. In Kansas we merely see an extreme version of this mysterious situation. The angry workers, mighty in their numbers, are marching irresistibly against the arrogant. They are shaking their fists at the sons of privilege. They are laughing at the dainty affectations of the Leawood toffs. They are massing at the gates of Mission Hills, hoisting the black flag, and while the millionaires tremble in their mansions, they are bellowing out their terrifying demands. 'We are here,' they scream, 'to cut your taxes.'"

-- Thomas Frank, from What's the Matter with Kansas? - How Conservatives Won the Heart of America, Metropolitan Books, 2004

Thursday, February 24, 2005

A Picture Is Worth...What?

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has four photos to accompany this week's column, "The Secret Genocide Archive." The photos are part of an archive of thousands of photos and reports that have been gathered by African Union monitors that document the genocide that the world is ignoring in Darfur.

One photo shows a man whose injured leg kept him from fleeing when the killers came. One photo shows a man who fled and almost made it to the bush where he was going to hide. One photo shows "the skeleton of a man or woman whose wrists are still bound. The attackers pulled the person's clothes down to the knees, presumably so the victim could be sexually abused before being killed. If the victim was a man, he was probably castrated; if a woman, she was probably raped."

All of the photos are affecting, but the one that affected me the most is of a little boy, about the age of my grandson who turns two-years-old tomorrow, face down in the dirt, brutally murdered along with 106 of his fellow villagers. Among the dead were "his older brother, about 5 years old, who lay beside him...(who) had been beaten so badly that nothing was left of his face. And alongside the two boys was the corpse of their mother."

It's one thing to hear about estimates that put the number of dead at over 220,000 at the rate of about 10,000 per month, it's quite different to see the product of our indifference. I hope that more and more of these photos are released until people fully begin to understand what's going on there.

Points to Ponder

"Maybe a nation that consumes as much booze and dope as we do and has our kind of divorce statistics should pipe down about 'character issues.' Either that or just go ahead and determine the president with three-legged races and pie-eating contests. It would make better TV."

-- P. J. O'Rourke, from Parliament of Whores (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1991)

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Social Security Propaganda

President Bush's pleas to privatize Social Security are falling on deaf ears. According to a recent CNN/Gallup/USA Today poll, 55% of Americans think it is a bad idea, and very few are willing to even call the Social Security situation a "crisis."
So now, the Orcs at USA Next, the people who brought you the Swift Boat Vets, are back. This time their target is the AARP, one of the most vocal critics of privatization. A USA Next ad on The American Spectator's website showed "The REAL AARP Agenda": a picture of an x-ed out American soldier and a checked gay couple. Clicking on the link takes you to the USA Next website, which has links, articles, and even a poll attacking the "liberal games" of the AARP. The poll asks, "Did you know that the AARP has received over $1 BILLION in taxpayer dollars over the past 20 years?" "Yes" or "No" are the only acceptable answers. This is a very crude attempt at a "push poll" - a poll that is not designed to determine the views of the respondents, but to push you toward the opinions they want you to have.
Since Daily KOS broke the story of the anti-military, pro-gay ad on the blogosphere, the ad has been changed. It's now a simple text ad that reads, "Free SPECIAL REPORT - 14 Facts the AARP Don't Want You to Know."
This is just the opening salvo in a propaganda battle to discredit privitization opponents and ram it down our throats. USA Next is planning to spend $10 million on their AARP campaign, and this is just a portion of the $200 million disinformation campaign that's on the way.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Corporate Responsibility

We have a strange newspaper situation here in Chattanooga. We had a fairly liberal morning paper, The Chattanooga Times, which was started by Adolph Ochs, who went on to found The New York Times. In the afternoon, we had the staunchly conservative Chattanooga News-Free Press, which was formed years ago by the merger of two other papers, The Chattanooga News and The Chattanooga Free Press. A few years back, when newspaper publishers were beginning to run out of pennies to pinch, the Times and the News-Free Press worked out some sort of bizarro publishing arrangement, giving us a bastard stepchild: The Chattanooga Times Free Press.
Here is a fairly decent newspaper with two editorial voices crammed into one paper. There is no op-ed page. There are two editorial pages op-ing each other. On one page, appropriately enough, the left-hand editorial page, there's the Times taking a position or endorsing a candidate. On the right wing, the Free Press takes the opposite position or endorses the other candidate. It's a great way to hear both sides of an argument. On one page, you'll see the columns of Tom Friedman, Ellen Goodman, and David Broder; on the other, William Buckley and Phyllis Schafley. They even have separate Letters to the Editor sections. On Sundays, the paper has a whole section devoted to opposing political philosophies, the Perspective section.

I told you that to tell you this. I was reading the Perspective section today, when I ran across Walter Williams's column "Weak-Kneed Corporate CEOs." If you're not familiar with ol' Walt, he's a African-American professor of economics at George Mason University, and apparently he's never gotten a smidgen of help from the government and despises anyone, especially fellow African-Americans, who have. A fierce apostle of Milton Friedman's and a fierce conservative, he's a favorite of the Free Press editorial staff. I shudder to think of what one of his economics classes must be like.

This column points out one of the fundamental differences between liberals and conservatives. He comes at the subject of corporate responsibility from a completely different direction than I would. I can see the good that corporations do, namely employing people and driving the economy, but I can be as anti-corporation as the next guy when I see them taking over the political process, poisoning the environment, outsourcing jobs to the third-world, etc., etc., etc. But here's ol' Walt, berating the "chief appeasement officers" of the corporate world who are trying to be good global citizens instead of grabbing every sweaty cent they can for their shareholders. He singles out J.P. Morgan Chase, Monsanto, Ford Motor Co., British Petroleum, and others for "caving in to pressure" from Greenpeace, the Rainforest Action Network, and other groups. Instead of praising them for being good citizens (yes, they are citizens - persons- according to the Supreme Court - with all of the rights and none of the responsibilities), Williams belittles the CEOs who've "been mau-maued" into befriending "anti-capitalist forces." It's especially interesting that he should single out the Ford Motor Co. Their crime? Their CEO, William Ford Jr., supported a gas tax that had no chance of being passed. A couple of decades ago, Ford was intentionally burning their consumers in Pintos, and just a few years ago, they were intentionally turning their consumers upside-down in SUVs. It's about time they made some effort, no matter how inconsequential, toward becoming good citizens.

Williams even quotes Sauron...uh, I mean, Milton Friedman in his article. It's his famous quote that there is "only one social responsibility of business - to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits," within the law, of course. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. Williams comes right out and says that "only people, not businesses, have responsibilities," which goes a long way toward proving the point that corporations don't deserve the legal designation as "persons."

For more on the shortcomings of corporations and the issue of Corporate Personhood, check out Reclaim Democracy and CorpWatch, who identify the real villians of Corporate America.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Points to Ponder

"Much of the anger inspired by Bush's presidency is a predictably liberal reaction to the earlier relentless assaults on Bill Clinton, which, if not exactly a 'vast, right-wing conspiracy' (its workings were largely out there in plain sight), did mark an attempt to deny the legitimacy of a twice-elected president. The right's fanatical hatred of Clinton ushered in a new era in contemporary politics remarkable for its absurd lack of proportion...In a broader sense, the feverish passions surrounding both Clinton and Bush are simply one expression of a culture increasingly goaded to extremes by the media's bottomless need for something exciting to talk about - be it Michael Jackson's weirdness, the Terminator's run for governor, Ann Coulter's self-aggrandizing rants, the trial of Martha Stewart, the American Idol voting, the D. C. sniper, Michael Jackson's arrest, the murder of five-year-old Samantha Runnion, the saga of New York Times faker Jayson Blair, Michael Jackson's plea of innocence, the midnight release of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, or the endlessly replayed footage, graciously put to music by Fox News, of bombs pounding Baghdad. And, by the way, did I mention Michael Jackson's preliminary hearing? Americans may no longer join political parties or turn up at the polls, but they do go see Bowling for Columbine or click on The O'Reilly Factor and through this act of spectatorship feel that they're actually doing something - or at least have the satisfaction of hearing someone articulate their feelings of frustration, impotence, and rage. We live at a time in which hysteria has replaced politics and consumption passes for social action. Fueled by the media's taste for extreme positions, we spend our lives being confronted with specious either-ors, of which 'for us or against us' is only the tip of the iceberg: You either support invading Iraq or you are 'objectively pro-Saddam.' You either oppose invading Iraq or you don't know that Kissinger helped murder Salvadore Allende. You either dislike frivolous pop culture or you lack 'values.' You either oppose gay marriage or you are antiwedlock, antireligion, anticivilization. Such bogus oppositionalism is our modern American key signature. It's used to wind us up, get our attention, and open our wallets. Manichaeism sells.
"One could find no more fitting president for such a culture than George W. Bush, who, after winning a disputed election, governed as if he'd won in a landslide; who, in the era of great corporate scandals, runs an administration as secretive as Enron; who, in the aftermath of the worst terrorist attack ever committed on American soil, called on his fellow citizens not to sacrifice but to keep shopping. Love him or loathe him, he is the political figure who defines our time, and like John Kennedy or Ronald Reagan before him, he casts a long shadow over our culture...We see his fractured image reflected all around us - in the rise of Fox News, the popularity of Darwinian game shows, the ubiquity of the neocon pundits, the left's crippling nostalgia, the reemergence of Cold War braggadocio, the $400 million box-office of The Passion of the Christ, the celebration of consumerism as self-expression, and the color-coded algebra of fear that has become part of every American's psyche. If you put together the President's policies, the artificiality of our political discourse, the shrieking of our pop culture, and the babble of information that bombards us every day, you have the unreal reality I think of as Bush World."

-- John Powers - an excerpt from Sore Winners (And the Rest of Us) in George Bush's America
(Doubleday, 2004)