Monday, February 28, 2005

Fear Factor in Falluja

For some reason, while reading this article by Dahr Jamail, reporting from inside Iraq about the realities of daily life under the relentless onslaught of American bombs, I kept flashing on scenes from the various ‘Reality’ TV shows and my visceral antipathy towards them suddenly coalesced into an understanding which I could now put words to. I always have thought those shows--Fear Factor, Survivor, Amazing Race, The Apprentice--were all suppurating chancres on the face of American Culture. This because they all espouse a world-view that is antithetical to everything I value. Namely that life is all about winning some prize or reaching some goal no matter who or what values you trash on your way.

The stories always feature some or all of these values: back-stabbing, cheating, taunting of opponents, put downs of others, petty bickering anger, revenge, dirty-tricks, humiliation…among others just as noxious. Conspicuously absent are any of the values which I treasure: truth, justice, equity, fairness, humility, patience, love, compassion, peaceable resolution of conflict, valuing another as ones self, respect, dignity, mercy, cooperative spirits and so on. I always understood that it was the stark juxtaposition of these completely contradictory sets of values which caused me to cringe whenever I couldn’t avoid exposure to one of these shows.

But now I see it in a new frame which makes the whole thing seem even more inimical than before. It is this: that not only are the concepts mean spirited, but the whole thing is cloaked in a hyped up glitz and glamour and the ‘story-lines’ are scripted and choreographed and this above all--there is no reality in any of it. There never is any real danger in Fear Factor, there never is any real risk of not surviving in Survivor, the participants of Amazing Race are nothing if not rats in a maze and ditto for the Apprentices. It is all an illusion for the contestants that is used to enthrall an audience and distract them from the reality of their own lives. Like the Roman Circus they are designed to keep us from thinking about the true meaning of our lives, from feeling our own reality based fear--of losing our jobs or the roof over our head, of loosing our health without recourse to medical care, of loosing our freedoms, our dignity, our civil rights, our retirement security--from empathizing with the similar plight of others, and from noticing what atrocities are being wrought in our name in Falluja, Gitmo, Abu Ghraib and elsewhere.

My recommendation is that all reality based TV series should be required to base next years series inside Iraq to help the Bush administration show off the purported progress there. Only women willing to cover every inch of skin and hair in robes and veils need apply for these adventures. The Apprentices could design products and businesses to teach the Iraqis how to create an American style cut-throat, consumer-driven economy that turns the blood and sweat of their people into virtual dollars that are free to migrate out of Iraq and into the coffers of multi-national financiers. The Amazing race contestants can go hunting for the WMD with the treasure map that Rummy will draw for them. The Survivors can be parachuted into the desert near an oasis and supplied with small herds of sheep and goats along with a few camels to experience the Nomad lifestyle and what happens when it is disrupted by the Napalming of the oasis and the slaughtering of their herds by a helicopter gunship.

And the Fear Factor contestants can be deposited in Mosul (which is currently getting the treatment which finally subdued Falluja) where they can show those wimpy Falujans how true American-style heroes can suck it up and stay cool, calm and collected while the bombs are falling for hours and days on end, the buildings are crumbling on top of them, the sounds of the jets and helicopters roar relentlessly around the clock. They can courageously maintain their equanimity when snipers take off the face of a man attempting to cross the street and refuse to look away as that face blackens with a cloak of flies. They can sing karaoke to drown out the screams of the dying. They can show their fortitude by not running screaming into the street themselves when a missile tears through the house in which they are guests, ripping the fetus out of their pregnant hostess. They can show their high-threshold for gross-out by sitting with the bodies until they begin to melt in the dessert heat disdaining to cover their mouth and nose to ward off the stench as they watch the worms crawl in and the worms crawl out…..

But in a few years or less they may not have to go all the way to Iraq to find the reality to test themselves against and prove their American-style valor for while they have been distracted by the illusion of fear and the vicarious glee of winning the prize at the end of the maze, the trap has been set to be sprung by only the slightest of disturbances: the rights and the laws and the very assumptions upon which they were crafted which have kept them and their forbearers safe from abuse of power for most of the last two-hundred years have been eviscerated--presumption of innocence until proven guilty in a court of law, habeas corpus, posse comitatus, freedom of speech and freedom of the press, freedom to assemble and freedom to associate, right to petition the government, right to dissent, right against unreasonable search and seizure of property, right to privacy, right to a speedy and fair trial in open court by a jury of our peers…all have been whittled down to mere shadows of their former selves.

Now that is something to strike real fear in the hearts of even the hardiest of Americans because it won’t take much of a disturbance to give the powers that crafted this trap their mandate to spring it on us. One more terrorist attack whether Al Qaeda or homegrown militia spawned. One more inner-city riot which could easily be sparked by an agent provocateur. A virulent epidemic whether nature or man made. And before you know it those helicopter gunships will be flying outside our twentieth-floor condominiums, those jets will be flying over our cities around the clock just to remind us that resistance is futile, our neighbors and colleagues will be dragged from their homes in the dark of night by masked and helmeted men and disappeared into interrogation chambers where there is only one acceptable answer even if it is a lie and in the true spirit of Survivor they will rat us out without flinching.

While our eyes have been on the chintzy prize at the end of the pseudo maze the trap has been primed and most of us will be ever so amazed when it is sprung before we can even say cheese for the Reality TV cameras which are sure to be there to document the triumph of their corporate sponsors and for the education of Americans in the reality of their status in the world as the producers and consumers of the Illusion that keeps everybody in their place, living vicarious dreams of virtual prizes and ersatz joy while the fruits of their labor in the form of their tax dollars are used to teach Iraq, and whoever else seems to ask for it, lessons in reality American style.

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Saturday, February 19, 2005

Support our troops: Ask tough questions. Bring them home.

Dexter J. Kamilewicz the father of a son being deployed to Iraq has a passionate plea: Support our troops. Ask tough questions. Bring them home now
And by ‘support our troops’ he decidedly does not mean support the war.
Check out why.

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Friday, February 18, 2005

TrekUnited.com :: Star Trek Fans United to Resurrect and Fund Enterprise

Progressives should make this an urgent cause of their own. Star Trek from the beginning has been a forum for introducing complex social themes via intriguing plots and riviting stories. We must not let the dream die now. Not now of all times.

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Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Pharisee Nation

John Dear, a Jesuit priest and peace activist, speaks truth to power like the prophets of old when he points to the hypocracy inherent in claiming to be a Christian and follower of Jesus while "consciously siding with the culture of war, choosing the path of violence, supporting corporate greed, rampant militarism, and global domination. I see many others swept up in the raging current of patriotism. Since most of these people, beginning with the president, claim to be Christian, I am ashamed and appalled that they support war and systemic injustice, that they do it in the name of God, and that they feign fidelity to the nonviolent Jesus who gave his life resisting institutionalized injustice."

He likens them to the Pharisees who persecuted Jesus and reminds as that "...the early Christians had big words for such behavior, such lies. They were called “blasphemous, idolatrous, heretical, hypocritical and sinful.” Such words and actions were denounced as the betrayal, denial and execution of Jesus all over again in the world’s poor."

Yes. It has been typical throughout the ages for the moral majoritarians to be either the tool or the possessor of wealth and power and to manipulate the fear and self-righteousness of the populace. In order to keep the house divided against itself so that all eyes and wagging fingers are aimed away from the true source of all the misery in their lives.

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Bush Budget Lacks Moral Vision

Jim Wallis at Sojourners and author of God's Politics offers this vision as a platform with which the Progressives can counter the charge that they are lacking in values:

"Budgets are moral documents that reflect the values and priorities of a
family, church, organization, city, state or nation. They tell us what is most
important and valued to those making the budget.The biblical prophets frequently
spoke to rulers and kings. They spoke to 'the nations,' and it was the powerful
that were most often the target audience. Those in charge of things are the ones
called to greatest accountability.

And the prophets usually spoke for the dispossessed, widows and orphans
(read: poor single moms), the hungry, the homeless, the helpless, the least,
last and lost. They spoke to a nation's priorities."

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Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Today it's Abu, tomorrow maybe you?

Keep in mind that legal precidents establish a baseline applical to all future cases. The law itself does not differentiate between racial, ethnic, religious groups only the enforcers of the law make those distinctions--police, prosecutors, judges, juries. So once a precident is set that curtails the constitutional rights of an American citizen no American citizen can continue to rest assured in those rights. This is a very scary precident. It is even scarier that more American citizens are not expressing alarm about it.

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'Support the Troops'

‘Support the Troops’ needs to mean a whole lot more than simple cheerleading. And the cost of that support is being conspicuously left out of any estimate of actual cost of the war. We will be paying the costs of this war for at least a generation if not two when you factor in the trauma incurred by the children of the soldiers who do not come home at all or do not come home whole in body, mind or spirit.

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Thursday, February 03, 2005

Framing the Story

Susan Strong urges progressives to reach out to moderate conservatives by framing the story within the familiar ‘family’ metaphor. As one big American family we are like any extended family “-fractious but in the end functional. There are people in it who aren't just like you, but they are still family and we still have to try to solve our problems together, despite our differences.”

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Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Nobles Need Not Pay Taxes.

Say what?
So said Paul O'Neil, according to Thom Hartmann who names the new power distribution favoring Corporations over ‘we the people’ and its co-opting of our representative government as a modern feudalism in which the corporations play the role of the nobles and we the people are their vassals. And even though they tended to make more, and more vigorous, use of the commons--public owned resources and public funded infrastructure--nobles tended to pay little if any taxes. This is the trend today around the globe as even those governments ostensibly in power at the request and sufferance of the people are increasingly lowering the corporate taxes and transferring the burden to the people in the form of higher taxes, depleted resources and decaying infrastructure.

The move to dramatically reduce corporate taxation has been building for years and gained a strong foothold during Reagan’s administration. But the blunt assertion that the agenda was to reduce them to as close to zero as possible had seldom been made so publicly or so clearly as when then Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neil said in May 2001 that there should be no corporate income tax whatsoever.

Hartman makes the case in favor of Corporate taxation just as clear and blunt:

Corporations are taxed because they use public services, and are therefore expected to help pay for them - the same as citizens.

Corporations make use of a work force educated in public schools paid for with tax dollars. They use roads and highways paid for with tax dollars. They use water, sewer, and power and communications rights-of-way paid for with taxes. They demand the same protection from fire and police departments as everybody else, and enjoy the benefits of national sovereignty and the stability provided by the military and institutions like NATO and the United Nations, the same as all residents of democratic nations.

In fact, corporations are heavier users of taxpayer-provided services and institutions than are average citizens. Taxes pay for our court systems, which are most heavily used by corporations to enforce contracts. Taxes pay for our Treasury Department and other governmental institutions which maintain a stable currency essential to corporate activity. Taxes pay for our regulation of corporate activity, from assuring safety in the workplace to a pure food and drug supply to limiting toxic emissions.

Under George W. Bush, the burden of cleaning up toxic wastes produced by corporate activity has largely shifted from polluter-funded Superfund and other programs to taxpayer-funded cleanups (as he did in Texas as governor there before becoming President).

Every year, millions of cases of cancer, emphysema, neurological disorders, and other conditions caused by corporate pollution are paid for in whole or in part by government funded programs from Medicare to Medicaid to government subsidies of hospitals, universities, and research institutions funded by tax dollars through the NIH and NIMH.

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