U.S. GOVERNMENT DROWNED IN BATHTUB!

13 08 2011

Nashville’s municipal elections are over, and to nobody’s surprise, there were few surprises.  All incumbents save one were handily re-elected,including Jason Holleman,  and the measure to obstruct sale of the Fairgrounds to a private developer was passed by a truly impressive margin.  There will be five runoff elections in September, with participation likely to be even lower than the 20% turnout for this election.  May I point out that instant runoff voting,” a system in which people get to indicate a second choice as well as a first, ends the expense and bother of delayed runoff elections?  Just sayin’, as they say.

The one incumbent who failed to make the cut was Anna Page, a fairgrounds privatization advocate whose district just happens to include the fairgrounds.  She lost by twelve votes to Tony Tenpenny, who opposed redeveloping the fairgrounds but is, alas, a political conservative.  It’s funny how people can be in touch with reality in some ways, and out of touch in others–and I’m sure there are people who say that about me–or worse.  But….losing by only twelve votes.  Think about that.  I’m sure Ms. Page is.

I actually voted against the Fairgrounds amendment, but only because it seemed to require that auto racing continue at the Fairgrounds. I view automobile racing as one of the many modern equivalents of gladiator sports, as well as a prodigious waste of precious fossil fuels and a nasty source of pollution, so, while I was in sympathy with the overall aim of the preservationists, I couldn’t see voting for something that dumb.  But I don’t mind a bit that the measure passed.  The will of the people–to keep public property public–prevailed, at least in this case.

Nationally, we were not so lucky.  In spite of overwhelming popular sentiment for higher taxes on both wealthy corporations and wealthy real people, and growing questions about the wisdom of massive military spending, the debt ceiling deal our so-called government agreed to is a complete reverse-Robin Hood measure that shifts even more of this country’s dwindling wealth from the poor and middle class to the obscenely wealthy.

Grover Norquist is famous for saying he wants to “shrink the government down to the point where we can drown it in the bathtub.”  Well, folks, that’s what happened, and we didn’t even have to elect a Republican President to do it.  Mr. Hope and Change wrung his hands and tsk-tsked, but ultimately did nothing to stop it, like an abused wife who doesn’t like it when her husband beats the kids, but isn’t going to call the police on him.  After all, he says he’s sorry and gives the kids candy, doesn’t he?

In fact, you might be excused for thinking that Obama, deep down, wouldn’t mind getting rid of that pesky kid known as “government spending for the public good.”  Not so long ago, he appointed a commission to review Social Security and Medicare, and even his supporters complained that it seemed strangely stacked against our country’s already tattered social safety net.

But, before we get into the messy details, let’s back up and remember that Democrats and Republicans unquestioningly raised the debt ceiling for the Cheney/Bush junta seven times during the eight years of the junta’s rule, nearly doubling US debt–which stood at just under $6 trillion when Bill Clinton left office, and had ballooned to $11.3T by the time Cheney left office.  And did the Republicans insist on “fiscal responsibility” in exchange for those raises?

No.  Cheney cut taxes (mostly on the wealthy) twice, floated an unfunded, enormously expensive subsidy to the prescription drug industry disguised as a way to help Medicare recipients buy the drugs they are told they need, and burned nearly a trillion dollars in the bonfires called Iraq and Afghanistan, fires that the Obama administration has cheerfully continued to feed with our tax dollars and loans from the Chinese.

The Nobel Committee must be wondering if they can revoke a Nobel Peace Prize.

I digress–like every other real solution to America’s problems, ending our spending on foreign military adventures is “off the table.”

Back to the debt ceiling/budget cuts question–the point is, that it was completely disingenuous, if not outright hypocritical, of the Republicans to suddenly stand up for “fiscal responsibility” around the issue of raising the debt ceiling.  It has never been tied to budget cuts before–and we’re talking 74 raises in the debt ceiling since 1962–that’s quite a precedent, so it’s no wonder  many of Obama’s liberal supporters were flabbergasted when he failed to challenge the Republicans on this, and instead played right into their hands.  You start to suspect he’s secretly one of them.

Look at his record.  He didn’t prosecute anybody on Wall Street for the crash–in fact, the Wall Street firms that triggered the crash are among his strongest supporters, and their executives became his closest advisers.  By contrast,  when the Savings and Loan bubble burst twenty years ago, thousands of bankers went to jail, over a financial peccadillo that was a fraction the size of the 2008 mess–$160 billion for the S&L’s,  $7.7 trillion for the subprime bubble.  Do the math–the 2008 crash was 48 times bigger than the S&L crash, and nobody went to jail.   Can’t say the bankers didn’t learn a thing or two in twenty years!  To cap it off, not only did Obama continue Bush’s policy of bailouts for the Wall Street firms who milked the economy, his program to help individuals who were losing their homes because they had been suckered into unrepayable mortgages turned out to be a useless piece of window dressing.

There’s the war crimes issue.  Obama not only took a pass on prosecuting Bush officials for atrocities they were clearly responsible for under international law, he continued and expanded those policies, including the assassination of American citizens who might be terrorists–but only ones who are out of the country, so far, so far as we know-.  What part of “innocent until proven guilty” and “right to a fair trial” does our government not understand?

When Bradley Manning tried to blow the whistle on our government’s criminal behavior, the Obama administration just put him in jail and tortured him.   Trial?  Manana.  What part of “a right to a speedy trial” does our government not understand?   And of course, Manning is only one of many who have been persecuted by this “hope and change” guy for the thoughtcrime of hoping to change questionable government behavior.

But it’s not like Obama has changed.  In one of his first Senate speeches, on the question of whether to investigate voting irregularities in Ohio that cost John Kerry the election, Obama asserted that he believed Bush had won the election fair and square and there was no need for the Senate to look into the matter, thus stiffing the Congressional Black Caucus.  That should have been enough to sink him right there, but no……

Obama wasted no time in putting GMO-pusher Monsatan–excuse me, Monsanto–in charge of the nation’s food supply by appointing Monsanto shill Tom Vilsack as Secretary of Agriculture.  Again, a totally Republican move–let the corporations run the government–“what’s good for General Motors is good for the country.”  Right.  But gee, Michelle has an organic garden at the White House–say it again, boys and girls:  “Window dressing.”

Our increasingly erratic climate is another crucial issue on which Obama’s approach has been to continue Republican policy, but with a kinder, gentler spin.  In spite of the Deepwater Horizon mess, his administration has approved the even more dangerous step of offshore drilling north of Alaska. In spite of Fukushima (not to mention Chernobyl and Three-Mile Island!), he remains committed to serious expansion of nuclear power.  After acting like he was going to slow down coal mining, which every responsible environmental scientist agrees needs to happen to keep the planet from going completely haywire, his administration has kept on approving mountain top removal mining, just like Bush (and Clinton) before him.  At Copenhagen, according to Albert Bates, who was there, Obama sabotaged the possibility of a real agreement and spun it like he had accomplished something.  This stands in sharp contrast to the Cheney-Bush approach, of course–they just sneered and hoisted the bird.  Some people loved it and some people hated it–but you know, the same is true of the public’s reaction to Obama–it’s just that the demographics of the lovers and haters has flipped.

It’s ironic–Obama is giving the Republicans everything they want, but can’t get when they’re in power.  Well, OK, abortion is still relatively legal and they said they weren’t going to defend the Defense of (Heterosexual-exclusive) Marriage Act–but ultimately, that’s just more window-dressing–and besides, they’re deporting  an Australian man who’s legally married to another man and citing DOMA as the reason.  Oh gee, they’ve declared that health insurance has to cover women’s’ birth control?  Great, if you can afford insurance–and, by the way, another subsidy for the pill-pushers.

Let’s take a music break–here’s a little James McMurtry for ya…a song called “God Bless America.”

So, the Republicans are on a roll.  They’re going to make sure that we don’t levy any taxes on wealthy Americans, whom they have renamed “job creators,” even though these so-called “job creators” haven’t created any jobs to speak of, lately, and in fact have been abolishing every American job they can possibly outsource for the last twenty-five years.  Rich people are “job creators”?  Can you say “big lie,” boys and girls?  How about “doublespeak”?

And reducing the debt by reducing taxes is another kind of double speak–the rate at which the government taxes the wealthy and big corporations has effectively declined by two-thirds over the last fifty years. Instead of raising money from taxation, the government generates income by selling treasury bonds, often to the rich people it used to tax.  This has the effect of reversing the cash flow–instead of corporate/high earner taxes going to help fund government operations, taxes from the middle class go to pay off the government’s debt to the wealthy.  In other words,cutting taxes on corporations and wealthy Americans drives the government deeper into debt–debt that will have to be paid off by the middle class, under the tax regime that has been imposed on us.

The Republicans have made it clear, and the Obama administration has pretty much agreed, that cuts to the military portion of our budget–which is about half of it–are off the table.  But, somehow, in spite of the fact that it’s supposed to be funded independently of the main part of the government’s budget, Social Security is on the table.  Services offered by Medicare and Medicaid are likely to be cut–without any attempt to limit the profits of the pharmaceutical and illness care industries, even though that’s a major factor in increased medical costs.  The Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Education, and all Health and Human Services programs will likely be given a serious trimming.  Bottom line:  if you’re poor or middle class, and need help, there’s going to be a lot less help available–medically, educationally, and environmentally.

I have often been, and continue to be, sharply critical of the conduct of many of these government agencies.  They tend to be corporate-friendly, heavy-handed, and resistant to radical innovation–but they need to be reformed, not abolished or hamstrung.  Simply shutting them down will result in a tidal wave of corporate abuse of the environment, shoddy treatment of American citizens–the latest food contamination news is that Cargill has had to recall 36 million pounds of ground turkey, while the FDA was busy sending in armed storm troopers to arrest the head of a small raw-food co-op whose products hadn’t made anyone sick.  In a better world, it would be the head of Cargill who was getting perp-walked, and those who wish to produce or drink raw milk would be free to do so without fear of arrest.  And, of course, in an even better world, there would be no Cargill and we would all live within a few miles of a producing dairy cow and some free-range turkeys.  But we’re not there yet.  I hope I live to see the day!

That last paragraph reminds me of one of my pet peeves–the fact that Americans are far more often referred to as “consumers” than as “citizens.”  We need to change that meme.  “Consumers” implies a level of passivity–a “consumer” brings to mind the image of an overgrown baby suckling at a corporate bottle.  (Corporate persons do not have teats, after all!) and periodically needing to have its poop taken care of.  “Citizens,” on the other hand, participate actively in civic life, take care of their own poop and take care not to take any poop from the government OR private industry.  I would have a lot less problem with the Tea Party if they were as hard on corporations as they are on the government.  But, at this point, the Tea Party is a puppet of corporations who want to use populist outrage to smash the only thing standing in the way of corporate domination of America.  Barack Obama, alas, is not enough of a David to stand up to this Goliath.

And that gets us back to–what can we do about the orgy of destruction that the Republicans and their Democrat enablers have unleashed on the country?  One thing we can do is to challenge it, every step of the way–politically, legally, and by where we spend our money and how we spend our time.

Politically, there has been a noticeable uptick in interest in the Green Party, as the illusion of difference between Democrats and Republicans becomes plainer to more people.  Legally, the situation is somewhat daunting, due to Democratic complicity in the Republicans’ appointment of outright fascists to the courts and the Republicans’ unhesitating blockage of any even slightly-liberal-leaning Democrats to those positions, but some legal redress of grievances is still possible.

We need to remember the example of Vaclav Havel, who started out as a beatnik-hippie poet, courageously defending his right to own Velvet Underground records and publish weird poetry against the Monolithic, All-Powerful, Communist State, and, who, over the course of twenty years, sparked a revolutionary change in the outlook of the people of the former Communist bloc that ultimately toppled a once-monolithic, all-powerful state.  If they could do it, so can we.

At the personal level, the level of our own time and our own money, it’s important to cultivate skills of self-reliance, to simplify our lives, and help our friends do the same.  Everybody has different innate talents and developed skills, and, just as “it takes a village to raise a child,” it takes a couple of hundred real, live, fully-present people to make a village.  That looks to me like where we’re headed.  I’m not sure how we’ll get there.  But that’s what makes life interesting, isn’t it?

music:  Velvet Underground, “White Light/White Heat”





FOOD FIGHT

7 08 2010

When 20 federal agents show up at a farm and seize farm products and computers, the first thing most people would think is, “marijuana.”  All too often, these days, it’s a different m-word:  milk, and also, sometimes, meat.

In response to demand for better-quality dairy and meat, farmers and local food activists across the country have set up private buying clubs, similar to  fruit-and-vegetable-oriented “Community-Sponsored Agriculture” groups.  Under this arrangement, which is a private agreement among consenting adults and not an open store, raw dairy products and freshly butchered meat move directly from farm to home, with no middleman, resulting in increased returns to the farmers, who need all the returns they can get.

State and federal regulatory agencies are starting to raise hell about this.  It’s hard to say how many farms and co-ops have been raided for “illegal” milk and meat, but the frequency of these raids seems to be increasing.

Illegal milk and meat–who woulda thunk it?  This is the latest bump in the road for the local food movement, and provides a prime example of two things:  first, laws passed because of a certain kind of dangerous behavior are being used to suppress a different, far more benign activity; and, second, big food’s use of the government to enforce its monopoly when other methods fail.

The rise of mass civilization over the last three or four centuries produced many unintended consequences–for that matter, the whole thing was an unintended consequence of unbridled selfishness as an organizing principle for society, but let’s keep it to the milk and meat department for now.

Not so long ago, the main way people had access to dairy products was from owning a milk cow, or knowing somebody who did.  Without refrigeration, fresh milk was a rare and transient treat, and ice cream an even rarer treat for the very wealthy.   Most milk became  yogurt and cheese, which store much better than milk.  Not so long ago, too, people had no clue about the germ theory of disease, and so contamination of fresh, raw milk was easy, unintended, and all too common.

A little more recently, dairy went from being a farm product to being an industry. As with any large capitalist enterprise, it involved underpaid, alienated workers who were not concerned about the quality of what they produced, and management looking for any corner it could get away with cutting.  Not surprisingly, this resulted in frequent contamination of the milk supply, widespread public illness and outcry, and, ultimately, regulation requiring refrigeration and pasteurization in an attempt to  insure safety.

The same thing happened in the meat-packing industry, with Upton Sinclair‘s famous novel “The Jungle” galvanizing public and legislative support in an attempt to clean up the business of keeping America supplied with meat.

But none of this changed the fundamental dynamic.  Workers remain underpaid and alienated, management still cuts every corner it can get away with, and the result is repeated episodes of contaminated products reaching the market, and widespread public doubt about the safety of officially approved practices, such as the use of  the hormone rBST to increase milk production.

Creating alternatives to mainstream meat and dairy products is not as simple as growing your own fruit and vegetables. XX Legally, meat and milk that are sold must be processed in government approved facilities–but the practices in those facilities, and indeed to some extent, their very existence, is the problem for many seeking local, healthier food.  To compound the problem, the regulations have been designed to favor large production facilities, and place onerous, unnecessary burdens on small producers–such as the detail that slaughterhouses have to provide a separate bathroom for the inspectors.

And so, people have formed private buying clubs to circumvent this.  They buy a portion of a milk or dairy cow from a farmer, so that when the cow is milked or slaughtered, it is already “theirs” and the farmer is merely performing a service for them.  This situation is far removed from the alienated, profit-seeking “industry” model that prompted the need for regulation.  There is a bond of trust between farmer and eater, and the farmer wants to give his customers the best quality he can, not the least he can get away with.

The law in many states, however, does not recognize this, and we have the spectacle of state attorneys and department of agriculture personnel roaring self-righteously about shutting down dangerous operations–which may be perfectly legal in a neighboring state.  In fact, some level of raw milk sales is legal in most states–but the federal government prohibits interstate commerce in raw milk, and has actively worked with law enforcement to shut down raw milk sales whenever it could.

There’s an eerie resemblance to the current patchwork state of medical marijuana here.  Another parallel with marijuana is health benefits.  Just as marijuana advocates propound its health benefits, which are vigorously denied by the DEA and some uptight academics and conservative social critics, so advocates of raw milk say that, overall, it’s much healthier for you than processed milk, claims strenuously contested by  many of the same people who oppose marijuana legalization.

But I’m a vegan.  Why do I care about this issue?  They’re not restricting my right to raw beans!  Well, actually, they’ve restricted my right to eat raw almonds.

And that’s where the wider implications of this food fight come in.  The blanket ban on raw almonds was instituted because of a salmonella outbreak that occurred in the almond crop of a large-scale, “factory” almond farm, and this is the same pattern we are seeing all over the “food industry.”  Factory-farmed foods have contamination problems, but the regulation that is introduced in response to these problems makes it much more difficult and expensive for small-scale operators, who are not the source of the problem.

Moreover, this continues the precedent, again, set through the drug laws,  that the government can control what we choose to put into our bodies, for reasons that have more to do with who controls the government than with human health. There are lines that can be drawn, but prohibiting private transactions among consenting adults is not the place. Banning commercial tobacco sales, for example, would be a good idea.  Prohibiting individuals from growing tobacco and giving, or even informally selling it, to their friends, outside a commercial framework, would not be a good idea.  But I digress.

Is it perhaps mere paranoia to think that the government would persecute the raw milk/fresh meat movement at the behest of Big Ag, rather than to protect innocent, misguided citizens from poisoning themselves?

Consider that Obama’s appointments to Ag Department posts look like he did his recruiting almost exclusively at Monsanto, the Fox News of agriculture. Consider that big agriculture, although it would be bad PR to admit it publicly, is concerned about having their market monopoly undermined by local food.  Consider the way corporate policy tends to become government policy, through the irresistible attraction of campaign funding arrangements.  The interwoven media-government-big business cabal will take advantage of every illness that can possibly be attributed to local food to make it seem dangerous, and use every mass release of contaminated food by a multinational food producer to create regulations that are full of loopholes for the big guys and hurdles for the little guys.

It’s about scale.  Raw milk is distinctly local.  It is not a mass-marketable product.  It cannot be transported cross-country, or across a continent, like pasteurized milk. (Most of the store-sold milk in Mongolia, traditionally a big dairy country, is now imported from Europe–but I digress.)  If a batch of raw milk is contaminated,  a few dozen people may be affected. But when the industrial food complex fouls up a batch, tens or even hundreds of thousands of people are poisoned.  Cargill, one of the companies concerned about the dangers of local foods, recently had to recall a million pounds of beef tainted with an antibiotic-resistant strain of salmonella.  How many people got sick from this?  Who knows?  Most of the  people who ate it were ignorant of its origin.  And of course, the resistant salmonella developed because factory-farmed cows are routinely fed antibiotics.  But that’s another story.

Factory-farmed eggs have had a long history of salmonella contamination.  The FDA has put new rules in place that will not eliminate contamination, but cut it by 60%.  Looking on the bright side, the official announcement says

79,000 illnesses and 30 deaths due to consumption of eggs contaminated with the bacterium Salmonella Enteritidis may be avoided each year with new food safety requirements for large-scale egg producers.

So…that means that there will still be 52,000 illnesses and 20 deaths every year due to salmonella-contaminated eggs, and that’s OK.  But raw milk!?  Send in the tac squad!

And don’t get me started on all the lawbreakers who are getting away with it while the government packs heat to bust people with milk cows.  OK, I’ll start a little:  Alberto Gonzalez will not be prosecuted for pushing US Attorney Generals to start cases just to make the Democrats look bad, or for helping John Yoo blow a lot of hot air about why it’s OK for the US to violate the Geneva Conventions and torture people, or just kill them outright.  John Yoo’s not getting prosecuted for that, either.  And not only are the boys at Goldman-Sachs not getting prosecuted for ripping off the rest of us, they’re getting to run the government.

I’m going to close with a quote from farmer and local food activist Joel Salatin:

“This food safety is a very subjective thing. If there’s one thing that stands between freedom and tyranny it’s the choice of being able to decide what to feed our own bodies. If that isn’t the most basic human freedom I don’t know what is.  By what extreme notion has it been decided that it’s perfectly safe to feed our kids Coco Puffs, Twinkies and Mountain Dew but it’s not safe to feed them compost-grown tomatoes and raw milk?”

music:  Greg Brown:  “Canned Goods








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